Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Tulsa Revisited

As I wrote in my post two Saturdays ago, I am sure that there were more editorial cartoons to be found about the 1921 Tulsa Pogrom than the two I had managed to locate at the time. Sure enough, cartooning blogger Mike Peterson has come up with a third:

"This Happened in America" by James in St. Louis Star, ca. June 2, 1921

It occurs to me that this incident may have created some cracks in the political alliance Black American leaders had had with the Republican Party since the Civil War.

The Republican Party was founded in the 1850s on an anti-slavery platform, and the election of its first successful presidential candidate resulted in southern secession and the Civil War. Radical Republicans instituted Reconstruction after the war, only to lift it in 1876 in order to finagle Rutherford Hayes into the White House. Reactionary Democrats then took back control of southern governments, and the "Solid South" became a major force in Democratic Party politics for generations.

With a few exceptions, post-Reconstruction Republican politicians had little to say about Black Americans' civil rights. Then Tulsa launched the genocidal attack on its Black citizens.

Less than a week later, President Warren Harding mentioned the Tulsa Holocaust at the graduation ceremony at Lincoln University Theological Seminary, a Black institution in Pennsylvania. As I noted in my earlier post, Harding lamented the violence, but promised to do nothing about it. 

"Much is said about the problem of the races. There is nothing that the government can do which is akin to educational work in value. One of the great difficulties of popular government is that citizenship expects government to do what it ought to do for itself. No government can wave a magic wand. The colored race, to come into its own, must do the great work itself. The government can only offer the opportunity."

Imagine yourself sitting there as a member of the graduating class of 1921, and this is all that the President of the United States has to say about the worst peacetime slaughter of men, women and children in the nation's history — only six days after the fact. That Republican president, with Republicans in complete control of both houses of Congress, did absolutely nothing to investigate, prosecute, remedy, or redress the situation.

Those graduating seminarians knew that no good would come from the local officials in Tulsa, or Democrat-majority state government in Oklahoma. That was to be expected. But the Republican response, presaging 21st Century thoughts and prayers alone, had to be a grave disappointment.

That graduating class were community leaders in their 30's when Democrat Franklin Roosevelt became president, turning 40 when Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practice Committee, and nearing 50 when Harry Truman's President's Committee on Civil Rights prompted the Dixiecrats to bolt the party.  Dwight Eisenhower may have been the GOP's last chance to win back the Black vote; Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon were more interested in currying favor with racist southern Whites. 

I haven't been able to come up with background on "James," the cartoonist at the top of today's post. I had already seen some of his other work reprinted in Independent Magazine and consistently credited to St. Louis Star, but Googling such a common name isn't very helpful. James must have replaced Archibald Chapin, who left the Star effective May 1, 1921 to draw for Country Gentleman in Philadelphia. In 1925, the St. Louis Star Times hired Daniel Bishop as its editorial cartoonist, so unless the Star Times could afford two editorial cartoonists, James's career there may have been quite short.


Update: The St. Louis Star cartoonist was Roy Harrison James, born 1889 in Zalma, Missouri; cartoonist at the Star from 1920 to 1929. From St. Louis, he moved to Malibu, California to write comedy. It is possible that he died in 1949, but I haven't located an obituary.

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