J.B. STRADFORD

BLACK WALL STREET PIONEER & WARRIOR

J. B. Stradford was a lawyer and son of a runaway slave who returned to Kentucky and purchased his freedom from his master. A graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio and the Indianapolis School of Law, he came to Tulsa, Indian Territory, in 1899. According to his memoirs, he was the first black attorney to settle in the Territory. In a short time, he was known as the wealthiest entrepreneur on Greenwood. In 1910, he built the luxurious 65-room Stradford Hotel. This lodge and other properties, valued at $200,000, perhaps $2 million in today's dollars, were among the most luxurious hotels in the city. The Black Wall Street pioneer established the first library for blacks in the state and was among the leaders who urged E.W. Woods to move to Tulsa and become principal of Booker T. Washington High School built in 1913.

 

After the 1921 race war, Stradford and several other blacks were indicted by a grand jury for inciting a riot by his account, a confrontation he had attempted to prevent. Released from a concentration camp under the guardianship of a white friend, he was told there would be an attempt to lynch him and other black "troublemakers." His great-grandson, the late Chicago Circuit Judge Cornelius Toole, said John Baptiste Stradford was magnificent and had the "courage and physical strength of a Mandingo warrior." The Greenwood pioneer wrote that he came to "The Promised Land" because of the successful establishment of black towns and that Oklahoma could become a black state.

In his memoirs left to the family, Stradford explained that a Tulsa Tribune headline alleging the rape of a white woman in an elevator by a black man "aroused the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan who said they would mob Dick Rowland that night." He said the sheriff telephoned and explained "the boy" was safe and if he needed help to protect him, he would call. A group of armed blacks traveled to the courthouse anyway. Stradford was left behind in the event that they were arrested and needed a lawyer. "They found at least five thousand whites demanding the sheriff to turn over the boy," Stradford wrote. After an attempt to take a gun from a black, a shot rang out and the largest episode of violence since the Civil War had begun. The Black Wall Street of America would be totally destroyed.

With his hotel and properties in ruins, after some intrigue, Stradford escaped to his brother's home in Kansas and was rescued by his son, Chicago attorney C. Francis Stradford. He joined his son in Chicago and his family would become among its most prominent citizens. Stradford died a fugitive in 1935. He never returned to Tulsa or forgot the loss and the humiliation they experienced. His family never discovered what happened to the land.

The Stradford family made several attempts to clear his name. In 1995, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating offered a pardon posthumously and formally apologized to the family and Tulsa's black community for the incident. In his remarks, the governor said "the great tragedy, the hatred removed the talent of Stradford and his descendants from Oklahoma. History is replete with ironies. Assigned to defend Rowland for the assault, was Washington E. Hudson, the titular head of the Ku Klux Klan and the majority leader of the Oklahoma Senate. Some noted it exemplified the city and law enforcement's cozy relationship with the Klan.

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BLACK WALL STREET PIONEERS