A.J. SMITHERMAN

ARMED, DETERMINED MEN CAN THWART

LYNCH MOB

A.J. Smitherman, newspaper editor and publisher of the Tulsa Star, was not only an influential leader in Tulsa's wealthy and growing black community, he was its conscience. He helped shape the spirit of The Black Wall Street of America with his continuous and fearless denunciations against Jim Crow.

He would be accused of fermenting and inciting the 1921 race war in Tulsa. Indicted, he escaped law enforcement officials and lynch mobs and never returned to Tulsa. His sense of pride had educated his community to the need to resist racial inequality. Lynching, or near lynching, were carried in the Tulsa Star with banner headlines with almost weekly accounting of the weekly victims. The quick reaction to the jailed black man for rape was largely inspired by Smitherman. The meeting before the courthouse incident was held at his newspaper office.

Born at Childersburg, Alabama, in 1883, he moved to Oklahoma In 1908. He lived first in Muskogee and in 1913, began his operations with the Tulsa Star. He carried his fight against oppression to the front porch of the power structure. As a precursor to Tulsa, in 1917 Dewey's black community was destroyed by a white mob. He researched the incident and sent a report to the governor.

 

As the result of his work, the state arrested the mayor of Dewey and 36 men. He personally interceded and worked with black residents and law enforcement officials in averting near lynching in Bristow, Okmulgee, and Beggs, duly reporting the incidents in the pages of The Tulsa Star.

A year before the Tulsa race war, there had been a lynching in Oklahoma City. Smitherman linked the incident with others, including that of Roy Bolton, a young white man who had been snatched from the county jail and lynched, while sheriff's deputies directed traffic. Smitherman wrote:

"The Tulsa Star is unalterably opposed to mob violence, regardless of the color of the men composing the mob. We have had some actual experience with the cowards who compose mobs, which have convinced us that two or three determined men armed for the occasion can thwart the purpose if they act in earnest and in time." Smitherman's omen became Tulsa's reality. Smitherman had lost everything during Greenwood's destruction. In her epic journal of the ruins immediately afterwards, Mary Jones Parrish wrote of Smitherman: "Colored people of Oklahoma will long remember A.J. Smitherman for the good he has done here."

The Tulsa Star was a recognized power in the politics of Oklahoma...its plant, valued at $40,000 or more, was the best equipped. This plant, as well as the editor's home, was completely destroyed in the massacre of June 1, 1921, and the editor forced into exile with his wife and five children following absurd charges growing out of the riot the night before.

It has been charged that his paper was responsible for the "uprising of the colored men." On the run and penniless, he fled to Boston, later settling in New York where he started another newspaper. Smitherman died in 1961. From his distant post, he published several poems

 

These men gave their all that a great principle might triumph.

Eulogy To The Tulsa Martyrs

By A. J. Smitherman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quick reaction to the jailed black man for rape was largely inspired by Smitherman. The meeting before the

courthouse incident was held at his newspaper office.

If I could stand in the midst of the dead bodies

Of those brave black men who fell in the Tulsa riot and massacre,

As martyrs to the greatest cause it has ever been human privilege to espouse,

I would lift my eyes in adoration and gratitude To the great God of the universe who gave us their being

And to my voice to their fellowman throughout this broad land,

And on behalf of a grateful race pay homage to their blessed memory.

By way of eulogy it may well be said, that

Because of them, the hope of our race looms brighter

And the world has been made some better, Not because they lived in it, but because they died as they did,

True martyrs to a sacred cause!

Fighting against overwhelming odds, and without hope of surviving the conflict,

These men gave their all that a great principle might triumph.

'TIS better to fight, and die if need be,

Than to live, if to live means to compromise manhood

And to sacrifice the sacred things that life is made of.

There is no choice for the man who is a man,

No matter what the realms of life may hold, Nor how sweet the unveiled future may appear, But to fight when contumely is the sting,

And if fighting die, if perchance he cannot win.

"TIs to the honor and glory of any man

To give his all for the things he holds dear.

Sleep! Sleep on, my fallen comrades, Rest complacently in the joy that must come to you,

Even beyond the veil of death, In the consciousness that you have contrived a full measure

To the cause of human justice.

Your active beings we have no more

These, and all that in them was, You freely gave on the altar of human sacrifice --

But your spirits abide yet with us A glorious inspiration to twelve million kindred souls

And their posterity to unborn generations

Who shall ever cherish your memory And emulate the noble example you have left us.

Sleep! Sleep on, brave souls,

And may God give peace to your ashes!

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BLACK WALL STREET PIONEERS