If you follow us on Facebook and Twitter, you may have seen me put out a request recently for some happier history fare. I’d spent the weeks leading up to that request researching the Doctors’ Riot, the Battle of Blair Mountain and the subject of today’s episode – the Tulsa race riot of 1921, also known as the destruction of Black Wall Street. Holly and I have to pause our recording because we’ve become emotional often enough that it’s become kind of a running joke between us. This is the first time I’ve had to pause my research for that reason. I’d never heard of the event before listeners requested it, in part because it was deliberately swept under the rug for nearly half a century after it took place.
The population in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma, boomed prior to 1921, thanks to the discovery of oil in the area. The Tulsa suburb of Greenwood grew into a thriving African-American community thanks to a combination of segregation and black entrepreneurship. On May 31 and June 1, a mob of white Tulsa citizens, including sworn law enforcement and members of the National Guard, burned it down after being thwarted in their attempt to lynch a young black man for a crime he did not commit. Thousands lost their homes, and hundreds died.
I think the reason there is so much stuff that you guys cover that is emotionally difficult is that the stuff you *missed* in history class is the hard, complex, emotional stuff that for a lot of overlapping reasons isn’t considered important enough or appropriate for school. And also unfortunately, the history of marginalized groups—who you cover a lot because, again this is the stuff we *missed* in history class— isn’t very happy, even when individuals triumph or when progress (eventually) happens.
Personally, I would love to see more stuff (that would maybe be happier, sometimes?) about the history of film and film production. Like maybe something about Mary Pickford and the group that founded United Artists? Olivia de Havilland and her role in the destruction of the ‘studio system’ for actors? Silent era stunt work? Alice Guy, the early French director who like, developed narrative filmmaking? The competing sound formats that ended the silent era? We know D.W. Griffith, but we’ve missed his contemporary, Lois Weber.
Thanks for your work, Tracy and Holly.
An odd side note here: the actor who played [Richard] Yates, Lawrence Tierney, was himself in the latter stages of a volatile life. While making his name playing tough guys from the ’40s (Born to Kill) to the ’90s (Reservoir Dogs), he also got into numerous drunken scrapes with the law, often involving violence. In 1975 he was questioned in connection with the apparent suicide of a woman he was visiting; he told police she “just went out the window.” (Tierney was also a regular, strangely, on “Hill Street Blues,” so David Milch knew both the troubled, alcoholic Yates and his troubled, alcoholic double.) During the “Seinfeld” shoot, Jerry Seinfeld discovered that Tierney had tucked a butcher knife from the set under his jacket, apparently planning to steal it. Jason Alexander, who played George, said in an interview, “Lawrence Tierney scared the living crap out of all of us.”
See also: the commentary for The Simpsons episode “Marge Be Not Proud.” Tierney did the voice of Don Brodka and the people on the commentary discuss Tierney as a frightening/intimidating person.