NPR’s Debbie Elliott Exaggerates the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Omits Major Context

  • Left has invented an anti-black atrocity in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, vastly overstating the black lives lost, minimizing the white lives lost, and uncritically accepting fabulist stories of bombers and mass graves
  • Repeated investigations have failed to find mass graves, most likely because they don’t exist
  • Newspaper accounts in black papers from 1921 say 150 blacks died, yet moderns claim it’s ‘up to 300’, this is most likely exaggeration for political purposes

OUR RATING: Journalistic Malpractice. Even is ashamed.

Indicted Outlet: Debbie Elliott, | National Public Radio | Link | Archive | May 24, 2021

White liberals in the media accept black narratives without question and without skepticism. The major media controversies of the past decade have unsurprisingly involved race and allegations of racism as part of their core narratives. Stories such as Mike “Hands up, Don’t Shoot!” Brown in Missouri, Trayvon Martin in Florida, and George Floyd in Minnesota, generated enormous outrage based on false and flawed narratives. Those narratives evolved in no small part to the uncritical way in which the white political left takes black narratives and uses double standards to accept the agendas they find positive, and then to reject other narratives they dislike which don’t fit their political narratives.

So when the media elites start dusting off old racial controversies, old race riots in this instance, reason and skepticism go out the window. The kind of rational skepticism that any other story might be subjected to, any extraordinary claim that would receive reasonable scrutiny, is not properly handled. It is considered uncouth and borderline racist to impose the same standards on these stories and claims.

The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 has a variety of extreme claims attached to it. The left doesn’t want you to even refer to it as a ‘race riot’ anymore, it was merely a ‘massacre’ because one side was all morally good, and one side was all morally bad. A ‘riot’ infers that there were two competing sides. A ‘massacre’ infers that the baddies hurt the goodies.

Moderns accuse the race riot of having killed so many people they were later buried in a mass grave. They claim that airplanes were used to drop incendiary bombs to burn down the prosperous black part of Tulsa known as Greenwood. They claim a wide and complicated conspiracy involving developers and city elders were behind the tensions sparking the riot, and were the ones who benefited from the chaos. All of these central claims appear to be false from the available record.

The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 happened, and dozens of people died, but the extent to which it is being blown up as something much larger than 36-39 confirmed deaths is a left-wing disinformation campaign.

Major Violations:

  • No Evidence to Support
  • Double Standards
  • Opinions as Fact

There is no evidence to support the claim of mass graves. The anecdotal claims and hyped newspaper accounts are likely sensationalism and gossip put in print. The left and the modern mainstream media will claim that white papers are unreliable because of their supposed racial motivation to suppress such information, yet these double standards won’t similarly say that black papers are then unreliable because of their own racial motivation to hype such information and to exaggerate the crimes committed.

The history of the mainstream media in this regard is very bad recently. It often presents its opinions as fact. It has a significant inability to separate facts from claims and to properly investigate claims that seem to advance the underlying political agenda shared by most journalists.

If it fits the narrative: don’t question it, becomes the mindset of modern journalists.

The death tolls are likely wildly exaggerated and inflated.

The Tulsa Riot of 1921 likely cost 36 lives, 26 black and 10 whites. It was a riot but not a ‘massacre.’ It started with a claim that a woman was assaulted on an elevator, a claim that was probably accurate to some extent since even the defendant admitted making contact with the woman. The mob that assembled with guns were black, and surrounded the courthouse after the accused was arrested. The black mob fired on a smaller white mob that had assembled and killed the ten men right away. The combination of both the assault accusation and the provocation of the dead whites set off a riot where homes and businesses were burned, and 26 blacks died.

Later, a representative from the NAACP, Walter F. White, made an estimate that 250 had died, 150-200 blacks and 50 whites. [1]

A 2001 Commission confirmed 39 total died, adding three more whites to the total of confirmed deaths. But it said that 75-100 and 150-300 were other potential estimates. [11]

So it is a bit of a sleight of hand that the 300 number is the estimate used in media reports. They are careful when using this to say “up to 300” but that’s a bit of wordplay to purposefully confuse readers and to inflate and exaggerate the total number of deaths.

Excavations trying to prove the narrative by finding the mass graves have come up way short of the claim of 300 victims of the riot. [6] They’ve found 22 bodies, but aren’t sure any of them are massacre victims. [7] The excavation team is working off of the eyewitness testimony of white man Clyde Eddy who spoke in the 1990s about what he witnessed 70 years prior as a 10 year old boy. [8]

These kind of ‘elder eyewitness’ claims are getting common. And when the first recollection of an event is decades later, and it involves a witness who was otherwise obscure, they deserve a lot of scrutiny. The elderly can be susceptible to suggestion and false memories. In the last few years Frank Sheeran admitted to killing Jimmy Hoffa [19], E. Howard Hunt admitted to shooting JFK [20], these kind of decades-later witness statements should frankly be presumed false.

It would be wise to be skeptical of these claims.

In any other situation the media would be giving the situation a lot more scrutiny than this is receiving and resist the temptation to treat opinions as fact.

No mass graves have been found, and no credible evidence of mass graves exists.[21] There is no evidence to support this extraordinary claim.

Most likely these are wild claims that result from tension, anxiety, and gossip. There were claims at the time that bodies were thrown en masse into the river as well. [9]

What conclusions should be drawn from all these confusing statements and conflicting witness statements, and statements that frankly don’t add up or square with known incidents? There’s an element of Occam’s Razor that should be applied here, which isn’t being fairly considered because of partisan motives. First, the presence of extreme and extraordinary claims should necessarily demand a related degree of evidence to support those claims. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Second, conflicting witness statements can be interpreted as the understandable chaos and confusion of the moment, but they can also easily indicate unreliability because these are word-of-mouth observations and not direct witness statements. Third, the absence of evidence for a claim is not proof that it is being ‘covered up.’ The absence of evidence for certain claims, such as the aircraft and the mass graves, are indications that the likely claims are untrue or significantly exaggerated.

When a prediction is made and the resulting event is not what was predicted, at some point you have to admit that there’s error in your model.

There’s so much pent up emotional energy behind this story, partially because the underlying story is so racialized, but also because of how much the modern moment wants to appropriate the pain and victimhood of those who suffered, that the situation deserves extra care and scrutiny. When society wants something to be true it runs the risk of confirmation bias.

The recent situation in Kamloops in Canada is a similar operative lesson that won’t be learnt by the political left. Hyping claims of mass Indian child graves, repeated examination has found the claims to be entirely false and exaggerated for political effect. [14]

One way you can tell this story has veered into politics is that its politically incorrect features and poor marketing words are being cleaned up.

When the activists start cleaning up the historical record, it’s always a strong indication that the agenda is more important than the truth.

“Black Wall Street” sounds better than how it was referred to in black papers at the time, as “Little Africa.” [2]

Another part of the story is that the white mob was so out for vengeance that they had airplanes dropping bombs on Black Wall Street. Airplanes used to bomb a civilian population, especially one you live amongst, is a special sign of deep-seated hatred and of almost irrational hate. As others have noted, its use in the Watchmen series is meant to justify the violence and carnage deployed against individual whites later in the series.

Yet it is highly unlikely there were any airplanes.

Here’s NPR: “Two days of bloodshed and destruction ensued, by land and air.”

Even the 2001 Commission acknowledges that eyewitness reports that have military planes, or even some that claim they saw a military bomber, are impossible given the available information and historical record. [11, p.103]

So if they weren’t military planes, then surely they were private planes.

The local airport had 15 total possible planes available. One or two of them were out of service. Eyewitness accounts vary, some have one plane dropping bombs, and others have over a dozen planes flying around bombing black neighborhoods. This is discussed at length in the 2001 Commission report.

Here at page 105 in the 2001 Commission’s report, [11] one can see the quality of the eyewitness statements about the bomber fleet:

Shooting from a 1921 airplane with a rifle? They suspiciously flew low but didn’t do anything ominous? Dropping turpentine ball bombs?

This is ridiculous nonsense.

Unreliable eyewitnesses claim there were fire bombings from the air, from airplanes which would have been in their relative infancy at the time. [3] The former policeman also claims that he had knowledge of a wide-ranging conspiracy engaged in ‘planning the attack.’

This is frankly not reliable and not credible. The series “The Watchmen” feature not just airplanes, but actual bombers coming in to bomb “Black Wall Street” during this 1921 riot, [17] even though the number of bombers in America in 1921 is effectively zero. [4]

HBO’s disinformation version of history: this never happened.

This Vox video, unsurprisingly, uncritically repeats many of the same canards about “mass graves” and “bombings”. [5]

It’s notable that the mainstream media’s understanding of the Tulsa Riot is so simplistic: ravenous racist whites simply got jealous of “Black Wall Street” and then destroyed it.

Apparently there is serious missing context from these basic claims. A newspaper published the month after the riot claims that this is important missing context: 1) four years prior, a black newspaper in the area was preaching armed rebellion to oppose lynchings and to ensure that blacks accused of assaulting white women weren’t arrested, 2) the black mob fired first upon the white mob assembled in front of the courthouse, 3) upon the start of hostilities, the militant white minority discovered a huge arsenal of weapons at a nearby black church, which suggested to them that they were planning an armed uprising. [10]

Reading between the lines of some left-wing books, such as Tim Madigan’s 2012 book, “The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921”, [13] it seems as though the church story might be true. According to Madigan, there was a battle outside a black church where 50 ex-soldiers were inside fighting off the white mob.[12]

In fact, Vox did their own standalone video piece on this topic [16] and they showed a picture from back in that time period that shows the church that was accused of storing guns and ammunition and where, apparently, black soldiers had a pitched battle with white militants outside.

“Burning of Church where ammunition was stored during Tulsa Race Riot – 6-1-21”

After the riot, a black leader named O.W. Gurley came forward and said there were militants whom he had warned not to provoke the whites. Gurley said that they went armed, at least 50, down to the courthouse and fired first. Gurley said many of the militants were known drug addicts and one in particular bragged to him later about having fired the first shot. [18]

Later in the article Gurley talks about the guy who “fired the first shot” as being with the black militants.

This certainly complicates the narrative.

Here’s how NPR explains what set off the race riot:

“The massacre had been sparked by reports that a 19-year-old Black man had allegedly offended a 17-year-old white female elevator attendant. The murky incident got blown out of proportion by inflammatory newspaper accounts.”

This is a major misrepresentation on multiple levels.

  1. This ignores the militancy preached by black newspapers to resist with violence.
  2. This minimizes the alleged assault on Sarah Page by saying she was ‘offended’ when she told the police she was ‘assaulted’, even though she later decided not to press charges. There’s no reason to label the incident “murky” – there were simply two sides to the story: Page said she was assaulted, and Fowler said he stumbled in the elevator.
  3. This ignores completely that there was a stand-off between blacks and whites at the County courthouse where blacks opened fire on whites
  4. This ignores completely that there was a battle at the church between black ex-soldiers and whites
  5. This ignores completely that there was an accusation that the black church was found to be filled with guns and ammunition for a planned assault on the white population, further setting off the militant whites
  6. There’s no credible claim that this got ‘blown out of proportion’ by ‘inflammatory newspaper accounts’ – the newspaper reported the claim. The excerpted newspaper did not enflame the situation.
  7. There’s no subsequent information about the elevator incident because Sarah Page disappears.

Without knowing more, certainly this photo and its scrawled caption indicates there is more to the story than what is being presented to the viewer. It also significantly challenges the attempted narrative on this piece that whites just irrationally sought out and murdered blacks, this photo and the caption give some indication that the conflict was more complex and involved than simply the NPR/Vox understanding.

Mere eyewitness statements aren’t enough to justify a lack of skepticism. The accounts don’t line up and frankly, don’t make much sense. There was no doubt extralegal violence, but it sounds like it was from both whites and blacks. The story is a lot less about white violence upon blacks than it is about a racial confrontation that spiraled out of control and destroyed a neighborhood.

Look at the way NPR treats the allegation of assault by 17 year-old Sarah Page. Instead of ‘believing all women’ they discredit her allegation because she’s not around to make it anymore. Nobody seems to know what happened to her. The black papers called her a ‘hysterical woman’ [22] and that familiar defense as to why the woman’s allegations shouldn’t be credible: ‘she’s a slut!‘ [23]

And they proudly boasted that since she disappeared her claims must therefore be false, a narrative that persists about Page’s allegations today [24] even while reporters fail to note that she disappeared.

If black activists can allege there were mass graves and the anti-black air force bombed the city without any credible evidence, why can’t others claim that the black militants killed and hid the body of Sarah Page causing the riot without any evidence? The consistent credibility of accusations and allegations strongly indicate that the extreme claims about the Tulsa Race Riot are likely false.

The insane double standards with this story and the resulting lack of any skepticism, will mean that left-wing reporters just keep repeating these exaggerations because they suit their narrative. And no matter how many times they dig around looking to confirm their theories about mass graves, they won’t find anything but their failure will only make them think the revelation is that much closer at hand, they’ll never question whether there’s anything to find.

OUR RATING: Journalistic Malpractice. Even is ashamed.


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