Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Tulsa Race Massacre and the Southern Baptists

"If the treatment of the Negro by the Christian Church is called 'divine,' this is an attack on the conception of God more blasphemous than any which the church has always been so ready and eager to punish." W.E.B. Du Bois
HBO Television Show "Watchmen" Recreating the Tulsa Riot
It saddens me to report that archaeologists announced yesterday that they believe they've found a mass grave in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Actually, they may have found two mass graves; one in Oaklawn Cemetery and one at The Canes, a stretch of land by the 11th Street Bridge.

On Memorial Day, May 31, 1921, and on Tuesday, June 1, 1921, whites massacred between 37 and 300 blacks in the Greenwood District, Tulsa, Oklahoma, (see the 2001 official government report), with 35 city blocks of Greenwood, America's "Black Wall Street," leveled to the ground.

Familiarize yourself with the Tulsa Race Massacre with this superb timeline from the Tulsa World. The massacre has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history."

The Greenwood District, Tulsa, Oklahoma after the massacre
There's no way of knowing how many blacks lost their lives. In addition to white men and women walking the streets with weapons, killing blacks in cold blood, private planes piloted by whites flew overhead and dropped nitro-glycerin bombs, indiscriminately killing men, women, and children.

Authorities gathered bodies in the clean-up and buried them in mass graves.

Some white southern Baptist leaders were involved in the riot, the massacre, the cover-up, and the
burials. So were white southern Methodists. So were white southern Presbyterians.

I feel like a piece of me is buried in those mass graves.

I was pastor of a white southern Baptist congregation in Holdenville, Oklahoma (1982-1987).
I was pastor of a white southern Baptist congregation in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1987-1992).
I was President of the mostly white southern Baptist Convention of Oklahoma (2002-2004).

Site of a Mass Grave (Tulsa World photograph)
I no longer live in Tulsa, but I have vivid memories of walking the streets of Greenwood District in downtown Tulsa. Several times I've gone to Oaklawn to officiate funerals.

I've been in the Brady Theater in the Greenwood District for concerts, one of the only surviving buildings of the riot. I've walked on the grassy piece of land near the 11th Street Bridge in Tulsa.

And the bodies of those unnamed murder victims were under my feet.

And white "Christians" massacred them.

Until the last few years, I was mostly ignorant of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Oh sure, members of the church I served in Tulsa would periodically mention it, but it was mostly in hushed tones. I don't fault them for not talking; I fault myself for not asking.

Robert Moats Miller, in his superb paper entitled The Attitudes of American Protestantism Toward the Negro (1919-1939), reminds us:
"There is in truth a vast gulf between ancient Christian creeds and actual Protestant deeds."
During the next 18 months, I will be writing about some and their Southern Baptists' involvement in the Tulsa Race Riot and its aftermath.

W.J. McGlothlin
W.J. McGlothlin, became President of the Southern Baptist Convention in June 1930, less than a decade after the Tulsa Race Riot.

Dr. McGlothlin was appointed chair of the Department of Church History at Southern Seminary in 1906. Greek scholar A.T. Robertson called Dr. McGlothlin "the finest communicator on the faculty."  He wrote several well-received books, including one entitled Baptist Confessions of Faith.

A champion of doctrinal orthodoxy, Dr. McGlothlin believed in the segregation of the races.

As President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. McGlothlin refused to attend a banquet given in his honor by the Rochester, New York, Baptist Association. The chairman of the banquet, Dr. James E. Rose, was the moderator of the Rochester Baptist Association.

Dr. Rose was black.

The President of the Southern Baptist Convention refused to attend the banquet because Dr. Rose was in a position of leadership, and he was a black man.

Apparently a Rose by any other color is no brother.

There may be some who say it's unfair to point out the past sins of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I do so because there are modern parallels.

A 2019 SBC pastor mocking women teachers with a GIF

Today's treatment of women by certain Southern Baptist leaders carry many similarities to Southern Baptists' treatment of blacks during the 1920s:
1. The exclusion, segregation, and domination of women is justified by misinterpretation of the Scriptures, similar to the manner in which Southern Baptists of the 1920s justified their treatment of blacks by pointing to the Old Testament Jewish exclusion of, segregation from, and domination over other races. 
2. Self-professed Southern Baptist leaders, or those desiring SBC leadership, write doctrinal tomes on why their position of male spiritual superiority is biblical, similar to the Southern Baptist predominate teaching of the 1920s that white superiority is biblical
3. Not all Southern Baptists in the 2020s believe in the exclusion of gifted Christian women from leadership, nor did all Southern Baptists believe in the exclusion of and segregation from minority ethnic groups in the 1920s.  
Leading up to the 2021 Centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, I will be writing about the danger of Southern Baptist silence on important issues of our Christian faith.

One  hundred years from now, if the Lord tarries, I do not wish anyone to accuse all Southern Baptists of placing our Christian women in spiritual mass graves during the 2020s.

Start asking questions.

More to come...


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but this is over the top wrong. Good people disagree on the ordination of women. Some denominations do ordain women, some do not.

Fair enough: we DO have the right to attend to churches that teach what we believe, no matter which side of the equation we are on.


I expected better of you, Wade.


Donald Johnson said...

My thinking is that the SBC from its start had a fundamental misunderstanding of authority, obedience, and submission as taught from Scripture and that this misunderstanding is the root that allowed such sinful travesties yesterday and today.

Wade Burleson said...


The word ordination is not even used in the article.

Our church doesn't ordain anybody and I don't even see ordination in the Scriptures.

So, I would gently suggest, Linda, that you not read into the article something that isn't there.

I said "treatment of women." Read Hardball Religion.

Thanks for your comment.

Wade Burleson said...

Donald Johnson,

That's my thinking too.

Things and times are changing though.


Christiane said...

Thank you, WADE.

"I feel like a piece of me is buried in those mass graves."

I remember going to the public library in my maternal grandmother's hometown of Plymouth NC, and reading the stories of lynchings on the old micro-fiche machine over twenty years ago, and the way they were written was meant to 'intimidate' people of color who read the accounts. I knew that my family were a big part of establishing the newspaper in that little town, and I felt grieved for it then, and I am sad now thinking about it . . .

we don't 'outlive' what has happened and those who were victimized, their families, their descendants also must harbor within them the effects of those times, in ways that are felt deeply but left unworded . . . the knowledge that such behavior on the part of our humankind is possible.

I never thought to see my country betray its allies on the battlefield, or imprison little 'brown' asylum children in poor conditions away from their parents, but WE have done this and I am grieving for it now . . . and praying for change to come. How deeply are we wounded from Adam's time, and thank God we have the grace to know it and to mourn for what we have done ourselves and collectively and for what we have failed to do ourselves and as a 'people', as countrymen and women together, and 'as Church'. God have mercy on us all. When people harbor hatred for 'the others', the first victims are themselves, their own souls, their spirits, their faith. . . . and the Lord Christ Himself who suffered and died for our sins, only He knows the extent of what we have done and failed to do.

I'm probably going to hear from the usual folks about 'white guilt', but it's not that at all, it goes beyond that into something more, a failure to acknowledge and embrace "and who is my neighbor?".

"If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? If we are not for others, what are we?
If not NOW, WHEN?" (haunting words from the old sages, yes)

Wade, how deep must the sadness go 'til we begin to understand? I don't understand. I tell God this all the time these days. I just don't understand.

Mikey said...

As an Okie kid, nothing in school was ever said about it. I knew nothing of this til I saw the Watchmen series. Growing up Southern Baptist, I'm not shocked. Church was a long string of sex abuse cover-ups, hateful scripture twisting, and woman shaming. The N word was a staple in the Baptist vocabulary. My grandmother really disliked The Southern Baptist Church, and I really understand why now. I hope the truth smacks some sense into people.

Rex Ray said...


My Grandson attends college in Tulsa. I’m sure he and most Americans today do not know the hatred that killed the innocent.

The link above list eleven accounts of the Sherman, Texas courthouse being burned in1930 in the process to kill a Black man accused of raping a White woman. He had gone to her house a couple of times wanting her husband to pay for his work.,_Texas

“During the Sherman Riot of May 9, 1930, the Grayson County Courthouse was burned down by local citizens in an attempt to lynch George Hughes, and African American suspected of assaulting a white woman. During the riot, Hughes was locked in the vault at the courthouse and died in--or was left unconscious by--the fire; fire hoses were cut. After rioters retrieved Hughes' body from the vault, it was dragged behind a car, hanged, and set afire. The black business section of Sherman was also burned down, and many African Americans fled. Governor Moody sent National Guard troops to Sherman on May 9 and martial law was declared in Sherman for ten days.”

Wade Burleson said...


Such a sad story. There are similar parallels throughout America.

In the Tulsa Massacre, police later determined that the young black man that the whites desired to lynch, had tripped as he was stepping on an elevator and had accidentally fallen into a white girl elevator operator. She screamed. He ran. The newspaper reported "assault" but in reality, the man tripped. So sad.

Gerry Milligan said...

I graduated from Tulsa Central High School in 1959. At that time one needed a class of Oklahoma History in order to graduate. The first time that I heard of the massacre was three years ago on facebook. So much for accurate history.

Christiane said...

so worried . . .

if anyone has the time, I think this is worthy of consideration, though it is a painful thing to read. It comes from Eagle's blog and carries an article from Christianity Today that is timely.

Here is the link AND an excerpt from Christianity Today's article:

" . . . . We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern."

Rex Ray said...

“Business Insider reported that Pelosi's worth was $26.4 million in 2012 and made her the 13th richest member of Congress. In 2014, Roll Call estimated that Pelosi's net worth was 29.35 million, ranking her the 15th wealthiest member of Congress.”

Gerry Milligan, you said, “So much for accurate history.”

It’s been said history is written by the winners.

That’s being done to President Trump right now by the ‘winner, Nancy Pelosi. She has won with his Impeachment; a disgrace!

But Pelosi refuses to send the Impeachment to Congress for a trial. WHY? They could remove him from office. Isn’t that what she wants?

She’s afraid the trial would rule him innocent, because she knows the charges of “Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress” are based on false information.

She is writing history; giving Trump a bad reputation that many people will believe just like my friend, CHRISTIANE has made.

Wade Burleson said...


That's sad.

Wade Burleson said...


I agree with your assessment.

When the Constitution is set aside for a political agenda, then my heart bleeds steel. Refusing to send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate out of fear he will be found innocent is politics, not governance by law.

TE said...

I grew up in Broken Arrow (a Tulsa suburb) and in 1984 I was taught about the race riot in 9th grade Oklahoma history. Thanks Mrs. Kidwell!

RB Kuter said...

Such accounts of atrocities during the past apartheid years of the United States inflict the pain of a re-opened wound, but not only to those victimized by the white supremist in control at that time. It opens the wounds of shame and regret of those of us who know they would have been on the side of the racist persecutors in that era.

It may be impossible for the people of today’s world to relate to the wickedness of the involvement of many of us professing Christians had during those days of the 1950s to perhaps the 1980s. Depending upon where you were raised in terms of your family upbringing and social environment, you could very well have been conditioned to believe there was nothing wrong with belittling, demeaning and discriminating against others due to their color. I mean, when you attend one of those many, perhaps most, of the white churches where the pastor preaches that blacks would never be allowed in your church and that segregation was God’s divine order of creation and were raised by parents who forbade you to call an African American lady a “lady” but only refer to her as a “woman” because she was black and beneath the social level and undeserving to be given respect, then you adapt to that mindset. At least for awhile.

What is amazing to me is that today there are so many my age and who lived in those times who now portray themselves as being horrified that such conditions could have existed and demonize those who were sympathetic to the white, racist, apartheid society that we had. In reality, I am convinced that many who lived in those days clothe themselves today in a lofty, self-righteous image when in fact, many were also involved as the discriminators in the past or complacent to those conditions. Wow! Where did all of those other white supremist go that lived around me?! I know they’re not all dead! Yet the entire society was dominated by them.

I never saw white people drink from a water fountain designated as “Colored Only” in sympathy of the equal rights movement. I never saw hordes of white people marching alongside those African American freedom crusaders. Yes, there were a few, but only a very, very few. I never saw any individual stand and walk out in protest when “Dixie” was sang at high school football games prior to integration being forced into white schools.

I have repented from what I was at that time and praise God for his grace and mercy that causes me to know I am forgiven by Him. But I will never really forgive myself for the dark heart and sinful attitude I had at that time. I regret not having been the “one” who vocalized opposition to the injustice done toward those whose only difference was the color of their skin.

But as is most often the case, due to God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace, He actually uses our past failures as a means to shape us into more of what He intends us to be. I have since grown to know and love and have lived with hundreds of Africans and African Americans and other peoples of different skin color and cultures than mine in many nations. Praise God for re-wiring me to do that with joy and full appreciation for what those peoples gave me and how they contributed to my life.

Due to my failure in regard to my racist past, I am more aware of discrimination and the injustice resulting from it that exists in today's world. I am more guarded about being prejudice and I believe God has led me to be more insightful and sympathetic to the conditions and circumstances of many who are discriminated against today. The shame and regret I have as a result of my past prejudiced outlook causes me to be more aware of those tendencies for us to adapt a sense of superiority and privilege that can result in the oppression of others, not only those of color, but women, homosexuals, and today, sadly, even those labeled as “Democrats”.

My desire is to not be a hypocrite who denies what I was, but to acknowledge that, beg forgiveness, and seek God’s help in using it to make me more of what He wants me to be today, and tomorrow.

Rex Ray said...

RB Kuter,

You said, “I never saw white people drink from a water fountain designated as “Colored Only.”

My young sister saw the water fountain sign that said, “White Only”. She knew her skin wasn’t white, so she was drinking from the “Colored Only” until a White person told her to stop.

Philip Miller said...

Is it just Southern Baptists that you accuse of gross fraticide, or do you also include the thousands of years of Roman Catholic and Orthodox history? Remember, all three branches of Christianity agree that there are limits to what God designed and intended for women to do in the Church's teaching ministry. From your comparison, almost the entire history of Christianity is one horrible slaughter of family.

Christiane said...

Mr.Kuter, thank you for sharing this.

"Depending upon where you were raised in terms of your family upbringing and social environment, you could very well have been conditioned to believe there was nothing wrong with belittling, demeaning and discriminating against others due to their color. I mean, when you attend one of those many, perhaps most, of the white churches where the pastor preaches that blacks would never be allowed in your church and that segregation was God’s divine order of creation and were raised by parents who forbade you to call an African American lady a “lady” but only refer to her as a “woman” because she was black and beneath the social level and undeserving to be given respect, then you adapt to that mindset. At least for awhile."

so it was in my maternal great-grandmother's time in the South, sadly, but I also know that after the Civil War, some of the elderly black people who had been with the family since their birth were taken in as beloved 'aunts' and 'uncles' and were lovingly cared for in their last days . . . that is something I have to hold on to that I can be proud of for my own blood relatives who lived in those times, yes. . . . the stories of grace that still bless.

There are many stories. Some horrible. Some touched with the grace that heals wounded people. But for those people of faith who struggle with the past, here is one story that shows us all that when the Holy Spirit comes near and heals the human heart, it can change and this miracle of grace exists in our world still . . .

There was a famous evangelical minister who was for most of his life, an avowed racist. Then something happened to him.


Here are his own words in his testimony that moved me greatly and gave me hope:

” “I never had a battle in my heart, I’ve never faced one in my life, and I never thought I’d have to go through it, as I have these last several years. Nobody in this earth knew that was going on in my soul, but I came to the firm conclusion that I had to change. And this man who needs me, whoever he is, is my brother, and my hand is outstretched. ”

(W.A. Criswell)

‘Salvation is created in midst of the Earth
O God, O Our God, Alleluia’

RB Kuter said...

Christiane, thanks for sharing that.

Another consoling thought is in the realization that I am not alone in experiencing God's grace that covers sins well beyond what I would dream impossible.

Perhaps John Newton, the former slave trader, had a sense of that grace when he wrote "Amazing Grace".

Anonymous said...

“There may be some who say it's unfair to point out the past sins of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I do so...”

Were you not silent when the SBC passed an “anti-racism” statement a couple of years ago.... only after removing the bits condemning their past views on the matter?

It’s hard to believe you actually care about condemning the past when you, literally, didn’t condemn the past.

Tanner Riley said...

I love it, Wade. You're bringing attention to important issues.