Banished How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town

Banished How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




The reign of terror which transpired partially helps explain the geographical demographic pattern that left black people packed into the country’s urban centers. The heartbreaking documentary . . . blows the sheets, off . . .




Banished How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America

                        Film Review by Kam Williams

Uncrowned Queens Instrumental in Righting an 86-Year-Old Injustice


Have you ever noticed how many 20th Century African-American trailblazers are referred to as the first to achieve this or that feat “since Reconstruction.” For instance, Edward Brooke (R-MA) is known as the first black elected to the U.S. Senate “since Reconstruction.” Douglas Wilder (D-VA) is celebrated as the first black to serve as governor of a state, again, “since Reconstruction.”

Why was that “since Reconstruction“ qualifier so frequently attached to modern African-American accomplishments? Simply because blacks had briefly made significant inroads after the Civil War only to have everything taken away in the wake of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. For between the late 1860s and the 1920s, black people were subjected to a form of ethnic cleansing that Hitler would later use as a precursor for the Holocaust.

The reign of terror which transpired partially helps explain the geographical demographic pattern that left black people packed into the country’s urban centers. The heartbreaking documentary Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America blows the sheets, pardon the expression, off this long-hidden aspect of U.S. history.

The picture was directed by Marco Williams, an intrepid researcher who has crisscrossed The South and Midwest, often putting himself in harm’s way, to ask the tough questions and to unearth proof of a widespread pattern of purging blacks from rural communities which persists to this day. Typically, the evictions began with a lynching, followed by a threat being leveled against every remaining African-American in the county at gunpoint. They were forced to flee before sunrise with little more than the clothes on their backs, often abandoning homes, businesses and farms they owned.

Told never to set foot on their own property again, unless they also wanted to be lynched, these refugees left, feeling lucky just to be alive. The expulsions were invariably followed by the adoption of a whites-only residential policy, and in the movie Marco accompanies some still frightened descendants of the disenfranchised back to visit their ancestors’ estates.

We see that many of these counties remain lily-white, such as Forsyth County, Georgia. There, Williams interviews Phil Bettis, an unsympathetic attorney who admits to helping Caucasians take legal title to the lands once owned by black citizens. “They slept on their rights,” he rationalizes, blaming the victims. Ironically, this same man is the head of the local “Biracial Committee” which is looking into whether the relatives of the banished blacks ought to be eligible for any reparations. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

They say The South has changed, but you wouldn’t know it from this jaw-dropping shocker you have to see to be believe.   

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Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America

How did three U.S. towns make African Americans disappear?

Marco Williams, award-winning filmmaker of TWO TOWNS OF JASPER, visits some of the whitest counties in the country to confront the legacy of “banishment”—a wave of racial purging that tore through the South 100 years ago.  Williams sits down with KKK leaders, white residents of these all white communities, as well as descendants of the banished alike, opening the wounds of history.  Will he help these communities heal? Is reconciliation possible? Or reparations? Or both?

Background Information

By Marco Williams

Forsyth County, Georgia—current population, approximately 151,000, over 95 percent white. In 1912, whites violently expelled all people of African American descent (over 1,000 people, approximately 10 percent of the local population). In January 1987, a civil rights march intended to help counter Forsyth County’s image as racist was met with violent opposition. The next week, in response to this event, a much larger march took place, involving thousands of civil rights activists from across the country. An estimated 5,000 counter-demonstrato rs also showed up. This large demonstration cost Forsyth County approximately $670,000 in police overtime, angering many local taxpayers who were unhappy at having to foot the bill for what they saw as outside agitators. The town subsequently levied huge parade permit fees to discourage future demonstrations, but that effort was disallowed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Forsyth County, Georgia v. The Nationalist Movement, 1992.Pierce City, Missouri—current population, almost 1,400, over 96 percent white. In 1901, white residents went on a 15-hour rampage with weapons stolen from a state militia arsenal, violently banishing approximately 300 African Americans. The violence was reputedly started in response to the murder of a 23-year-old white woman, but reporter Murray Bishoff also discovered evidence that some townspeople wanted to follow the lead of nearby Monett, which had expelled its African American population seven years earlier. To explain what had happened to the black population, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch actually described Pierce City as “Monettized.” The city has designated June 5 as a day of remembrance for the banishment, and the Pierce City Museum houses an exhibit on the topic (created by Murray Bishoff), but it refused James Brown’s request to pay for the exhumation of his ancestor. In 2003, much of Pierce City was destroyed or damaged by a major tornado. The town is still in the process of rebuilding.Harrison, Arkansas—current population, just over 12,000, approximately 97 percent white. According to historian James Loewen (Sundown Towns), “In late September of 1905, a white mob stormed the jail, carried several black prisoners outside the town, whipped them and ordered them to leave. The rioters then swept through Harrison’s black neighborhood, tying men to trees and whipping them, burning several homes and warning all African Americans to leave that night. Most fled without any belongings. Three or four wealthy white families sheltered servants who stayed on, but in 1909, another mob tried to lynch a black prisoner. Fearing for their lives, most remaining African Americans left. Harrison remained a ‘sundown town,’ [i.e., a place that threatened, ‘Nigger, don’t let the sun go down on you here’] until at least 2002.” As part of an effort to promote healing, the town has created a college scholarship for black students named after Aunt Vine, a prominent member of the original African American community.  Ironically, though she was buried in Harrison, her grave is unmarked.

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Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Greenwood is a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As one of the most successful and wealthiest African American communities in the United States during the early 20th Century, it was popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” until the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The riot was one of the most devastating race riots in history and it destroyed the once thriving Greenwood community.

Within five years after the riot, surviving residents who chose to remain in Tulsa rebuilt much of the district. They accomplished this despite the opposition of many white Tulsa political and business leaders. It resumed being a vital black community until segregation was overturned by the Federal Government during the 1950s and 60s. Desegregation encouraged blacks to live and shop elsewhere in the city, causing Greenwood to lose much of its original vitality. Since then, city leaders have attempted to encourage other economic development activity nearby.

The Tulsa Race Riot

One of the nation’s worst acts of racial violence, the Tulsa Race Riot, occurred there on June 1, 1921, when 35 square blocks of homes and businesses were torched by mobs of angry whites.

The riot began because of the alleged assault of a white elevator operator, 17-year old Sarah Page, by an African American shoeshiner, 19-year old Dick Rowland (Mr. Rowland was eventually exonerated). The Tulsa Tribune got word of the incident and chose to publish the story in the paper on May 31, 1921. Shortly after the newspaper article surfaced, there was news that a white lynch mob was going to take matters into its own hands and kill Dick Rowland.

A group of armed white men congregated outside the jail and, subsequently, a group of African American men joined the assembled crowd in order to protect Dick Rowland. There was an argument in which a white man tried to take a gun from a black man, and the gun fired a bullet up into the sky. This incident promoted many others to fire their guns, and the violence erupted on the evening of May 31, 1921. Whites flooded into the Greenwood district and destroyed the businesses and homes of African American residents. No one was exempt to the violence of the white mobs; men, women, and even children were killed by the mobs. Troops were eventually deployed on the afternoon of June 1, but by that time there was not much left of the once thriving Greenwood district. Over 600 successful businesses were lost. Among these were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores and two movie theaters, plus a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half-dozen private airplanes and even a bus system. Note – It was a time when the entire state of Oklahoma had only two airports, yet six blacks owned their own planes.

It was suspected by many blacks that the entire thing was planned because many white men, women and children stood on the borders of the city and watched as blacks were shot, burned and lynched. In addition some of the black owned airplanes were stolen by the white mob and used to throw cocktail bombs & dynamite sticks from the sky. Property damage totaled $1.5 million (1921). Although the official death toll claimed that 26 blacks and 13 whites died during the fighting, most estimates are considerably higher. At the time of the riot, the American Red Cross estimated that over 300 persons were killed. The Red Cross also listed 8,624 persons in need of assistance, in excess of 1,000 homes and businesses destroyed, and the delivery of several stillborn infants.



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DA Moves to Dismiss 1921 Riot Charges for all Defendants


TULSA, Okla., December 1, 2007 – Eighty-six years after the infamous June 1, 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris plans to file a motion to dismiss charges of “riot” brought by a Tulsa County grand jury against 55 defendants.

Harris said he decided to file the motion “in the best interest of justice”. A hearing on the motion is scheduled December 11 at 10 a.m. at the Greenwood Cultural Center, which sits in the 35-block area where homes, churches, schools, a hospital and a library were looted and burned during the 24-hour riot. District Judge Jesse Harris will preside at the hearing.

 “It is my hope that dismissal of charges against all defendants will reaffirm our commitment to the Rule of Law and help to promote racial healing in our community. I believe it is important to recognize the atrocities and devastation that occurred during this shameful event,” Harris said.

Harris said he began looking at the grand jury indictment and other records after he was contacted by a woman researching the life of Andrew Jackson Smitherman, a prominent black publisher in Buffalo, N.Y., who was one of the defendants in the Tulsa riot indictment. Smitherman, who published the Tulsa Star and was a staunch advocate for rights of black citizens, was indicted for “riot”, posted bail and fled Tulsa with his wife and five children. His home and newspaper office had been burned and he was a fugitive. Smitherman rebuilt his life to become a prominent citizen in Buffalo and died in 1961. His biographer asked Harris whether Smitherman’s name could now be cleared. Charges against another prominent black Tulsa businessman, J.B. Stradford, were dismissed in 1996 by former D.A. Bill LaFortune after a similar request by Stradford’s descendants. 

Several comprehensive studies of the history of the riot have been undertaken in the last decade. Prior to that, more than a half-century passed in which discussion of the riot was rare and generations had learned little or nothing about the event.

“There are still many unanswered questions about what happened and why and there probably always will be questions,” Harris said. “As I studied the records and report released by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, it became clear to me that the Rule of Law which governs our search for the truth in our criminal justice system broke down during this tragic event and justice would best be served if charges were dismissed against not only Mr. Smitherman, but all defendants,” Harris said.

TIM HARRIS / TULSA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY / 900 County Courthouse / 500 S. Denver Ave. / Tulsa, Oklahoma 74103-3832 / Contact: Susan Witt 918-596-4977

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Uncrowned Queens Instrumental in Righting an 86-Year-Old Injustice

By Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, Ph.D.

Co-founder, the Uncrowned Queens Institute


In 2003, when Dr. Peggy Brooks-Bertram and I were informed that our application to the Oklahoma Centennial Commission for the “Uncrowned Queens of Oklahoma 1907-2007” was accepted as an official Centennial project, we had an idea but could not fully imagine the impact that this project would have. It has taken us across the state of Oklahoma, from Oklahoma City, to Enid, to Tulsa, to Altus, and introduced us to many gracious and welcoming Oklahomans. And, as was our goal, it has taken us across time into Oklahoma’s rich African American history, while simultaneously providing some unanticipated bridges connecting two communities, separated by distance but united by culture and history.

At the time that we began to formulate the Uncrowned Queens of Oklahoma Project, we became acquainted with Mrs. Eddie Faye Gates of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mrs. Gates is a retired educator, who is a member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, a body appointed by the Governor to examine the incidents related to the 1921 destruction of Tulsa’s Black district. Mrs. Gates came to Buffalo in 2003 to keynote the Uncrowned Queen’s third annual conference. Her poignant stories of the Race Riot survivors were riveting and sparked our interest in learning more about this historic event, which was so thoroughly hidden that many Tulsans were not aware of the catastrophe that occurred in their own city.

At some point, thanks to “They Came Searching: How Blacks Sought the Promised Land in Tulsa”, one of several books written by Mrs. Gates, I came across Mr. Andrew Jackson Smitherman, the owner/publisher/editor of the Tulsa Star newspaper. Smitherman, a leading citizen of Tulsa at the time of the riot had also been accused of inciting the riot and indicted for his alleged role in that incident. Forced to flee Tulsa, he settled in Springfield, Massachusetts for a short time before moving to Buffalo in 1925 and making this city his home. Mr. Smitherman started a new newspaper in 1932, appropriately named, the Buffalo Star.

As I continue (it’s an ongoing process) to research the life of Mr. Smitherman in Buffalo and Tulsa, I have found a man of great courage, conviction and moral integrity – a true “community builder.” To date, history has been fairly silent on his life since Tulsa.

However, given Smitherman’s history of community building in Tulsa and Buffalo, the role of racism in the events leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot and Massacre* and the un-substantiated charges against him, I decided to ask for redress to one of the injustices he experienced.

In May of this year, I wrote to the District Attorney of Tulsa County, Mr. Tim Harris, and requested that he review Mr. Smitherman’s case and consider clearing his record of the alleged charges of inciting the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Upon review of the Smitherman indictment and that of about 50 other falsely accused men, Mr. Harris has made the decision to drop the charges thus leading to the expungement of their records after 86 years! Per my conversations with Mr. Harris about his decision, he said, “it’s the right thing to do.” And that “Tulsa needs a healing.”

On December 11, 2007, Dr. Brooks-Bertram and I will be in Tulsa for the ceremony to officially expunge the records of Andrew J. Smitherman and others who were indicted for inciting the Tulsa Race Riot and Massacre*. This historic ceremony will be attended by political leaders from the state of Oklahoma and the City of Tulsa, members of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission, Tulsa Race Riot Survivors and their families and others. This will be an historic occasion, to which the Uncrowned Queens Institute is proud to have been the initiator and which we hope, with Mr. Harris, will contribute to the City’s efforts to heal the wounds that still scar the soul of this community.

Read more about Andrew Jackson Smitherman at

Source: UQ Newsletter (November 2007)

Related links:  /  /

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A.J. Smitherman & Family






























































Tulsa Race Riot and Massacre

By A.J. Smitherman (1922)

Whence those sounds in all directions Firearms cracking everywhere; Men and women all excited, Cries of rioting fill the air.

Men with guns and ammunition, Rushing madly to the fray, Shooting, cursing, laughing, crying, “Come on, boys, come on this way!”

“They are trying to lynch our comrade, Without cause in law defi; Get your guns and help defend him; Let’s protect him, win or die.

‘Twas the cry of Negro manhood, Rallying to the cause of right, Readying to suppress the lawless, Anxious for a chance to fight.

So they marched against the mobbists Gathered now about the jail, While the sheriff stood there pleading, Law and order to prevail.

Thus responding to their duty, Like true soldiers that they were, Black men face the lawless white men Under duty’s urgent spur.

Cries of “Let us have the nigger” “Lynch him, kill him” came the shout, And at once there came an answer When a sharp report rang out

“Stand back men, there’ll be no lynching” Black men cried, and not in fun Bang! Bang! Bang! three quick shots followed, And the battle had begun.

In the fusillade that followed, Four white lynchers kissed the dust, Many more fell badly wounded, Victims of their hellish lust.

Quick they fled in all directions, Panic stricken, filled with fear, Leaving their intended victim, As the news spread far and near.

Scattered now in great confusion Filled with vengeance all anew Leaders of the lynching party Planned for something else to do.

“Blacks prevent a Negro’s lynching” Read a bold newspaper head, In an extra night edition, “Fifty Whites reported dead”.

Rallied now with reinforcements Brave (?) white men five thousand strong Marched upon the Black defenders With their usual battle song:

“Get the niggers” was their slogan, “Kill them, burn them, set the pace. Let them know that we are white men, Teach them how to keep their place.

“Forward! March! ! command was given, And the tread of feet was heard, Marching on the Colored district, In protest there came no word.

In the meantime rabid hoodlums Now turned loose without restraint Helped themselves to things of value More than useless to complain.

Guns were taken by the hundreds, Ammunition all in sight Reign of murder, theft and plunder Was the order of the night.

But our boys who learned the lesson On the blood-stained soil of France, How to fight on the defensive Purposed not to take a chance.

Like a flash they came together, Word was passed along the line: “No white man must cross the border; Shoot to kill and shoot in time!”

“Ready, Fire!” and then a volley From the mob whose skins were white “Give  ’em hell, boys”, cried the leader, “Soon we’ll put ’em all to flight”.

But they got a warm reception From black men who had no fear, Who while fighting they were singing: “Come on Boys, the Gang’s all here.”

Rapid firing guns were shooting, Men were falling by the score, ‘Till the white men quite defeated Sent the word “We want no more.”

Nine p.m. the trouble started, Two a.m. the thing was done. And the victory for the black men Counted almost four to one.

Then the white went into council, Hoping to reprise their loss, Planned the massacre that followed, Dared to win at any cost.

June the First, at five a.m. Three long whistle blasts were heard, Giving sign for concert action To that cold blood-thirsty herd.

At the signal from the whistle Aeroplanes were seen to fly, Dropping bombs and high explosives, Hell was falling from the sky.

On all sides the mob had gathered Talking in excited tones With machine guns, ready. mounted, Trained upon a thousand homes.

Source: Smitherman Poem

Timeline of the Tulsa Race Riot

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I had written for a newspaper in Buffalo called The Empire Star, edited by the great A.J. Smitherman, who was the target of mob violence during one of the worst riots in American history, the Tulsa riots of 1921, which left 300 blacks dead. Smitherman believed in armed self-defense against lynching.—Ishmael Reed, EastVillage

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Uncrowned Queens Institute series

Uncrowned Queens, Volume 1  African American Women Community Builders of Western New YorkSpacer Peggy Brooks-Bertram – Author and editor Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – Author and editor

Uncrowned Queens, Volume 2  African American Women Community Builders of Western New YorkSpacer Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – Author and editor Peggy Brooks-Bertram – Author and editor

Uncrowned Queens, Volume 3  African American Women Community Builders of Western New YorkSpacer Peggy Brooks-Bertram – Author and editor Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – Author and editor

Uncrowned Queens, Volume 4  Afrrican American Women Community Builders of OklahomaSpacer Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – Author and editor Peggy Brooks-Bertram – Author and editor

Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire  Origin of the Civilization from the CushitesSpacer Drusilla Dunjee Houston – Author Peggy Brooks-Bertram – Editor

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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest “real progress toward freedom and justice.” Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. “This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him.” —John Pilger In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.—Publisher’s Weekly

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Malcolm X

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By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist. Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 26 December 2007




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