Tulsa Race Massacre - The University of Tulsa

Tulsa Race Massacre

Race, land and the business of oil in Indian Territory

Since 2019, the Helmerich Center for American Research (HCAR) at Gilcrease Museum has hosted a postdoctoral fellow each year under the Duane H. King Postdoctoral Fellowship. This fellowship enables scholars across diverse fields to mine HCAR’s collection of over 100,000 rare books, maps, manuscripts and photographs as well as present at a works-in-progress seminar and teach courses at The University of Tulsa.

Man in blue shirt smiling
Mark Boxell

In 2021-22, HCAR is honored to host its third King fellow, Mark Boxell, Ph.D., an American West expert who earned a doctorate from the Department of History at the University of Oklahoma in 2020. Boxell’s interests revolve around the American West, with a particular focus on the region’s conjunction with oil and the environment, as well as the two fields’ intertwined histories.

Prior to arriving in Tulsa, Boxell spent his undergraduate years studying at The University of Evansville, where he first discovered his keen interest in environmental and western history. After graduating in 2014, Boxell migrated further west to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he went on to receive a master’s degree in history from Colorado State University. While there, he studied the environmental history of public lands in the west and wrote a thesis that examined the history of fossil-fueled transportation in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Race, land and oil

Black and white photo of a burning oil tank
A family poses in front of a burning oil tank near Healdton, OK, c. 1915.

Currently, Boxell is conducting research for a book on the interactions between race, land and the petroleum industry in the Mid-Continent oil region, particularly in Indian Territory/Oklahoma in the early 20th century. As part of this project, Boxell intends to further explore the allotment of the Five Tribes’ collective land base and its intersection with the production of oil. Additionally, Boxell is interested in understanding the growth of cities like Tulsa and the connections between white settlers and the petroleum industry. “Petroleum became central to white settlers’ identities and their growing institutions,” stated Boxell.

The collections related to oil and Oklahoma at HCAR, specifically the Jackson Barnett collection, especially appealed to Boxell’s scholarly goals. Barnett — a Muscogee man otherwise known as “The Richest Indian in the World” — and his family became embroiled in controversy over questions of inheritance surrounding Barnett’s tremendous oil wealth. “Barnett had been a member of Chitto Harjo’s group of separatist ‘full-blood’ and African Creeks,” said Boxell. “He attempted to rebel against white settlers and the federal government at the turn of the 20th century, and like a number of Muscogee individuals, his allotment in the Cushing area proved tremendously rich in oil.”

From fellow to professor

Black and white photo of a river and oil derricks
Oil derricks erected along the Cimarron River in Oklahoma, c. 1915. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey)

As part of his King fellowship, Boxell has had the opportunity to teach a couple of courses at TU related to his field. In the fall, Boxell taught a graduate course in the Museum Science and Management program called “Racial Violence and Public Memory.” Students examined the history of racial violence and studied how such instances are subsequently commemorated and/or whitewashed in their respective societies. “We often discussed the Tulsa Race Massacre,” stated Boxell, “and how the effort to spread awareness of these instances of violence has required a lot of labor from the affected communities.” Boxell gave the Eddie Faye Gates Collection as an example of this; specifically, the oral histories passed down from survivors recounting the role that oil played in Tulsa leading up to the massacre.

This spring, Boxell is teaching an undergraduate course for the Department of History titled “American Environmental History.” An introduction to the field at large, this course examines the ways that people have interacted with the natural world over time and how the natural world has responded and shaped societies, cultures and ideas.

After his fellowship at HCAR concludes, Boxell will be taking with him the knowledge and experience he has gained to The University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he will be an assistant professor of American and environmental history.

The Helmerich Center for American Research is open to visiting faculty, students and scholars from all over the world. Consider checking out HCAR for all your American history and culture explorations!

TU Law to launch Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic

A century after attorney Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960) set up shop in Tulsa’s Greenwood District to offer legal counsel to an underrepresented community, The University of Tulsa’s College of Law is returning to that neighborhood to carry on Franklin’s legacy and give hope to those most in need.

The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic will be the latest addition to TU Law’s Clinical Education Program. It will provide free legal services to clients in Greenwood and North Tulsa who require assistance with a variety of issues identified in consultation with community leaders and service providers. Legal assistance will be available, for example, on issues including housing, such as foreclosure prevention and evictions; disability applications; expungements and pardons; unemployment applications; small business formation; and problems repaying business loans.

The clinic is named after Tulsa attorney Buck Colbert Franklin, who was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar in December 1907 and established his law practice in Tulsa with Attorney I.H. Spears on Greenwood Avenue in 1921. Franklin moved to Tulsa 100 years ago this month from Rentiesville, where he had lived with his wife, Molly Parker Franklin, and his two youngest children, Anne Harriet and John Hope. His family had lived in Oklahoma since they arrived in the 1830s, enslaved to the Birney Chickasaw family.

Two men and a woman seated inside a tent
Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Tulsa Friends and John W. and Karen R. Franklin

In the aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Franklin served his community and his profession by assisting massacre survivors. Working from a tent because his office had been burned down, Franklin fought back against the injustice of the massacre and the city’s assault on Tulsa’s Black community. Through his advocacy, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a City of Tulsa ordinance passed in the aftermath of the massacre that allowed survivors to rebuild their homes only if they used fireproof building materials.

“My grandfather, B.C. Franklin, helped his community rebuild after a white mob destroyed Greenwood in two days. You will note that his clinic, photographed June 6, 1921, accommodated his partner, I. H. Spears, and their temporary secretary, Effie Thompson, my grandfather’s college classmate from Roger Williams University in Nashville. The tent held lawbooks, a typewriter and a telephone! Residents lined up to submit their insurance claims,” said historian John. W. Franklin, a program manager and curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. “I am very pleased that the new TU B.C. Franklin Legal Clinic honors Grandpop’s commitment to public service.”

a man and a woman standing outdoors next to a flight of stairs
Dwain Midget (JD ’03) and Stephanie R. Jackson (JD ’18), co-chairs of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Coalition

“The TU College of Law is well recognized for providing outstanding clinical programs that serve multiple needs and diverse communities in our city,” commented Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “The College of Law Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic, which grew out of the collaborative work of TU alumni, faculty, students and community members, expands the breadth of the college’s clinical offerings and carries on Mr. Franklin’s legacy of service, leadership and justice.”

The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic is possible thanks to the generosity of donors who contributed to the recent ‘Cane Crowd fundraising campaign in support of the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Coalition, a new entity at TU Law comprised of students, faculty and alumni. The coalition’s mission is to mark the centennial of the tragedy with hope and action. Members of TU Law’s vibrant Alumni Association have been particularly instrumental in conceiving of and financially supporting the coalition and the clinic.

First steps: Confronting housing insecurity

The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic will eventually have a physical presence in the community it will serve. In the meantime, a virtual legal clinic held Jan. 23 focused on housing issues. Clinic organizers chose this topic because of the many acute challenges renters in Tulsa face, including the city’s high eviction rate. As a recent report by TU Law’s Terry West Civil Legal Clinic underscored, Tulsa’s eviction rate is the 11th highest in the United States, a situation that has been compounded by the economic and health fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


“Despite the fact that it was only the first week of the spring semester, our students stepped up to the plate, with all the work for the Jan. 23 event conducted over the phone,” said Associate Dean for Experiential Learning Mimi Marton. Noting that this is a challenging way to operate for both clients and students, Marton commented that “we are committed to providing services that the communities need using all of the resources at our disposal. We could not have done this without the help of community leaders and our TU Law alumni, and without the trust that the clients placed in us. We look forward to many years of providing legal services to the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities.”

Over the course of five hours, 16 students worked in teams of two to help 10 clients. Prior to this clinic, the students had undergone a week of focused training on topics such as Oklahoma’s landlord and tenant legislation as well as the long-term effects on tenants of the eviction process. During the event itself, they were assisted by clinical faculty and two lawyers from Housing Solutions. Clients brought a variety of issues to the table, including homelessness, safety and disability.

For 2L student Abigail Bauer, helping people to navigate these turbid waters held both personal and professional significance. On one hand, the clinic enabled her to act on her belief that those with legal knowledge have a responsibility to assist others who lack such a resource.

In addition, the applied training dimension is critical. “These real-world experiences cannot be replaced. The chaos of the ‘unknown’ – unknown clients, unknown extension of the eviction moratorium, unknown global health circumstances – forced us to prepare for an array of scenarios. This strenuous type of preparation is what helps our minds think more critically because we now have real clients to protect,” she said.

Plan to attend the 21st Annual Buck Colbert Franklin Memorial Lecture, featuring Hannibal B. Johnson, Esq. This year’s lecture will be presented virtually on Feb. 18.



’Cane Crowd 2020

Each fall for the past two years, The University of Tulsa has held an annual crowdfunding campaign called ’Cane Crowd. Its mission: to raise funds for projects that support TU students and the wider community. This year, the campaign will run from Monday, Nov. 30, to Friday, Dec. 4, including #GivingTuesday on Dec. 1.

Madison Cotherman, TU’s director of annual and affinity giving, is leading the 2020 ‘Cane Crowd campaign. According to Cotherman, ’Cane Crowd plays a distinctive role: “While most university fundraising efforts happen on a large scale, drawing attention and funds to entire colleges or scholarship endowments, ’Cane Crowd is an opportunity to highlight unique and timely projects happening at TU with smaller fundraising goals that are under $10,000.” Rather than focusing on larger projects, ’Cane Crowd seeks to help raise money for smaller initiatives.

Each year, the ’Cane Crowd organizers solicit project pitches from students, faculty and staff. All four projects selected for TU’s third ‘Cane Crowd attempt to address challenges facing TU students, while one of them also extends the university’s resources out into the community.

1921 Race Massacre Centennial Coalition

Two people standing outside the College of Law building with the words seeking justice superimposedThe first project is focused on supporting the work of the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Coalition, a new entity in TU’s College of Law comprised of students, faculty and alumni. The Coalition’s mission is to mark the centennial of the tragedy with hope and action. Members hope to launch new programming, such as pop-up legal clinics in the Greenwood area and establish a scholarship endowment to foster diversity within TU Law.

This project’s fundraising goal is $10,000. The money will go toward programming costs, such as rent for the pop-up legal clinic locations. If the Coalition reaches its goal, loyal alumni and local law firms have agreed to match that. Those “challenge gift” funds would go toward the scholarship endowment. “I can think of no better way to honor the Greenwood Community and legacy of Black Wall Street than by hosting legal clinics and establishing a scholarship for a deserving TU Law student. Please join us and be a part of history,” said Dwain Midget (JD ’03), the Coalition’s chair.

TU Food Pantry

Carrots, corn and other vegetables in open tins with the words meeting needs superimposedThe second project is directed at establishing a TU Food Pantry, which is being launched on campus in late December or early January by True Blue Neighbors and Sharp Chapel. In a recent survey, 25% of participating TU students reported they had experienced food insecurity, and even more reported they could not afford to eat healthy and balanced meals. “Food insecurity on college campuses is a growing problem across the county,” said Melissa Abdo, the program coordinator for True Blue Neighbors and the lead on this project. “We are excited to partner on this TU Food Pantry project to provide fresh produce, proteins and pantry staples, ensuring our students have access to healthy food.”

The Food Pantry team’s fundraising goal is $5,000. If they reach that objective, those funds will help transform TU’s bike shop space into a welcoming and functional food pantry through the purchase of refrigerators and other necessary equipment.

Textbook Reserve Program

The third project aims to fund a new Textbook Reserve Program at TU. Everyone knows that textbooks can be expensive, but the ability to afford those prices should not inhibit a student’s success in the classroom. To help solve this challenge and work to expand resources, McFarlin Library plans to launch the Textbook Reserve Program to increase affordable student access to classroom material.

an open book in front of shelves of books with the words expanding resources superimposed“A donation to the Textbook Reserve Program would go directly toward purchasing a copy of all required undergraduate textbooks over $100,” remarked April Schweikhard, the director of library public services and the project’s lead. “Students would be able to check out their textbooks from McFarlin Library throughout the semester and have more access to the course materials they need to succeed.”

This project’s goal is $10,000. With those funds, the library would start acquiring all required undergraduate textbooks that cost more than $100. Students would then be able to check them out for a few hours at a time throughout the semester.

Virtual Reality for Nursing Education

In addition to the many challenges posed by the global pandemic, COVID-19 has also complicated how TU’s nursing students achieve their required clinical hours. The School of Nursing is looking to raise $5,300 to amplify its use of virtual reality (VR) technology. Additional VR equipment and software would allow current students to continue getting the skills training they need, even if remotely.

A woman wearing a virtual reality helmet and holding a virtual reality wand with the words embracing innovation superimposedA donation to the Virtual Reality for Nursing Education project would go directly toward purchasing equipment and software to begin engaging all students in this innovative teaching modality. Bill Buron, the director of the School of Nursing and the lead on this project, observed: “Expanded VR would provide students a safe and realistic simulated environment for engaging in clinical experiences that have been more limited in real life due to COVID-19. Because there is a severe shortage of nursing faculty nationwide and the average age of a nursing faculty is approaching 60, new and innovative teaching strategies are needed that may save faculty time while actively engaging students in learning and developing clinical and critical thinking skills in increasingly complex healthcare environments.” In addition, this project would kickstart collaborations between the TU School of Nursing and the Tandy School of Computer Science as the two units work together to develop new and engaging VR software to teach students particular clinical nursing skills.

Be part of ’Cane Crowd 2020! Learn more and pitch in from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.

TU fraternity raising funds to support local African American cultural center

The University of Tulsa’s Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity is raising funds to support one of Tulsa’s pre-eminent African American organizations: the Greenwood Cultural Center.

The Greenwood Cultural Center’s mission is “to preserve African-American heritage and promote positive images of the African-American community by providing educational and cultural experiences; promoting intercultural exchange; and encouraging cultural tourism.” To do this, the center keeps the history of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street era alive through its exhibits on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. It also delivers several programs for Tulsa youth.

Logos of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and the Greenwood Cultural CenterLambda Chi Alpha chose to support the Greenwood Cultural Center because the organization shines valuable light on Tulsa’s past. Jarrell Sims, a finance major and the Lambda Chi Alpha member heading up the initiative, explained its significance: “This project means a lot to us. Not only are we supporting a local Black organization that is doing tremendous work in the Tulsa community, but we are also making a clear statement about what we stand for as a fraternity.”

“I couldn’t be more encouraged that Lamda Chi Alpha has developed this initiative,” said Amanda Chastang, TU’s diversity officer. “Greek Life has a big voice on campus and this fraternity is using its platform to set an example of actionable ways to build community in a time when our national climate is so divided. As we approach the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, we as a TU community have a responsibility to set a standard of educating our campus not only on the Race Massacre but also on the bountiful success of Black Wall Street. It is so important to not only acknowledge this history but to support and give back to the Black-owned businesses on Greenwood today.”

Jarrell Sims smiling and wearing a blue shirt, tie and black blazer
Jarrell Sims

In Sims’ view, “it takes a conscious effort from all people from all walks of life to rid our country of systemic racism against people of color. The Greenwood Cultural Center is just the beginning for us. We want to support more organizations that strive to make positive social change for underrepresented communities. We hope this inspires more organizations on TU’s campus to use their platforms to speak out against inequality of all forms. It is everyone’s duty to fight for a future where everyone is treated fairly and equally.”

All the money Lambda Chi Alpha raises will go directly to the Greenwood Cultural Center. If you would like to support this worthy cause, click here.

Does this sound like the kind of project you’d like to be a part of during your college experience? Find out more about Greek Life and opportunities to give back to the community around TU.