By: Joe Strupp
If you come across the May 31, 1921, issue of the Tulsa Tribune, grab it! The Oklahoma Historical Society has offered a cash reward for anyone who can find one.
It contained a vivid editorial urging punishment of a local black youth accused of molesting a white girl. The headline, “To Lynch Negro Tonight,” is credited with sparking the bloody Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.
“Because of the headline, large white groups began to gather outside the jail, while dozens of blacks from the other side of town showed up to prevent a lynching,” said Tim Madigan, a Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reporter and the author of the new book “The Burning” (St. Martin’s Press), which explores the horrific riot that killed an estimated 300 people, mostly black, and burned down some 35 blocks of Tulsa.
The Tribune, an evening paper published by racist Richard Lloyd Jones, printed the editorial in only one early edition, Madigan told E&P. Several editors convinced Jones to remove the headline from later editions, fearing it would spark violence, but it was too late. Several paperboys were sent out to retrieve copies and returned with several dozen, but hundreds of the remaining copies were passed from hand to hand.
Finding a copy today has become almost impossible. The Tribune folded in 1992, and library microfiche shows a version with the inflammatory editorial and headline ripped out.
“It would be intriguing to actually see it,” said Madigan. “It is really lost.”