Thursday, March 27, 2014


When I read the following essay, A Valiant Legacy written by Mark Darrah, tears filled my eyes. The theme is so touching that I wanted to share this story with our readers. 

Everyone I know is sad and ashamed of what happened in  1921 on the north side of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Many of us who are both Christians and patriotic are ashamed of what happened in the 1950's in the name of Christianity and patriotism . There's nothing we can do to change history, but we can learn lessons from past mistakes and try to build a better future for everyone.

A Valiant Legacy will be included in Mark’s next book, A COLLECTION OF COMMON PEOPLE, which will soon be available in print and in e-book form.

Mark Darrah is a mystery writer, essayist, and attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has published articles, and short stories. His commentaries can be heard from time to time on "Studio Tulsa" at KWGS 89.5 FM.

I’ll let you know when his collection of personal essays, A COLLECTION COMMON PEOPLE is available.


The year is 1966.  May.  The place: Taft Junior High School in Oklahoma City.  The seventh grade social studies teacher has spent the first two-thirds of the hour talking about Communists. Then, she says, "And we have Communists right here in Oklahoma City..." And she lambastes as Communists a group of ministers who have signed and presented a petition to the local school board demanding that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting children from being forced to say government required prayers in public schools be respected.

The filing of the petition made the headlines of the front page of The Daily Oklahoman. The Court's ruling had already been demonized by its shorthand summarization as "prohibiting prayer in school." In this Cold War time, when billboards read "Impeach Earl Warren," this act of courage by this small group of ministers constituted for many -- the social studies teacher included -- not only apostasy but also treason.

At the end of the hour, a seventh grade boy walked to the front of the room, looked the teacher in the eye, and said, "My father signed that petition and he's not a Communist."  He turned and left.

The boy's father was reprimanded.  He lost his church.  His family was uprooted from their home. This father was by no means a radical. He had voted for Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. He worked hard, paid his bills, tried to be a good citizen. He simply believed that compulsory prayer is no prayer at all, that prayers required by the government profane the sacred.

Later in his new residence as his family mourned the loss of familiar surroundings and friends, that father sat in the dark and wondered whether he had done the right thing.
Fast-forward to the present time.

"The building had just been completed the month before," my friend Dean says.  He and I stand on the bottom floor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. "The church had taken out a loan and then it all went up in flames except this basement.  Let me show you something."
Mt. Zion on fire during 1921 Race Riots

Dean leads me into a recessed area and he points to black scars on cement walls.  "You can still see where the fires burned. The insurances wouldn't pay because they said it was caused by a riot and they didn't have to. The church members met in this basement for years until they were able to pay off the debt and build another building."
The ruins of Mt. Zion Church
Like other public school students of my generation, I had to take Oklahoma history in eighth grade. My textbook had been silent about this. The most devastating racial violence in American history had taken place within walking distance of where my junior high school teacher taught a saccharine version of my state's past.

That official story also left out the chapter on the Ku Klux Klan's domination of my state in the 1920's. During this decade, the KKK was strong not only in South, but also in the Midwest where it had the largest number of members. It was vigorously anti-African American, anti-Catholic, Anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant.  According to its literature of the day, this secret fraternal order was committed to protecting the "purity of white womanhood" and to organizing "the patriotic sentiment of native-born white, Protestant Americans for the defense of distinctively American institutions."

The Klan recruited heavily from white Protestant churches and civic orders such as the Freemasons and the Knights of Pythias. Over thirty-five thousand people attended a Klan induction in Oklahoma City in 1922. One year in the 1920's, all five of candidates for Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives were members of the KKK. Church ladies formed auxiliaries to support their husband's nocturnal activities and to restore and preserve traditional values and morality.

Klan members, disguised in white robes and hoods as the ghosts of the Confederate dead, abducted and physically punished those whom they believed engaged in public indecency, drug use, immoral behavior, wife beating, bootlegging, and other assorted sins.

In Oklahoma, martial law was declared to stop the Klan's vigilante beatings, whippings, and castrations. In the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, thirty-five square blocks of the African-American community were destroyed, over 100 people were killed, and an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, the result of white mob violence. The governor who declared martial law was immediately impeached.
When I wrote a family history for a college class in the 1970's, I asked my living grandmothers and grandfather this question: What was the most significant event of your lifetime?
Each answered: World War I.

Each thought this war had forever corrupted the morals of the country.

My sister, brother, and I these days go through family heirlooms accumulated by my parents and their parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Many were Masons and members of Eastern Star. All were devout white Protestant Oklahoma Christians.

I wonder how close I get to touching the robes of the Ku Klux Klan.
I remember a discussion I had with my grandfather during the latter years of his life. He had come of age in the 1920's and had political ambitions like his father before him. By the time of our talk, Grandpa had had a stroke. He didn't get animated much anymore, but when I asked him whether he had any dealings with the KKK, he lurched forward and said, "They were all a bunch of cowards. They tried to get me to join. I told them I wouldn't have anything to do with them."
The wonderful thing about learning is that you deprive no one else by taking what you learn. The wonderful thing about teaching is that you don't lose what you give away. Teaching is also the only gift you can give that will live on into eternity. Something you teach becomes another's who teaches it to another and to another, and on and on and on.

You see, my grandfather had a son who signed a petition demanding that the Oklahoma City School Board respect the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court prohibiting government-mandated prayer in school. And, that son was a minister, who was reprimanded, who lost his church, whose family was uprooted, who later sat in the dark and wondered whether he had done the right thing.  But let me ask you today, would my brother -- that seventh grade boy who told his teacher that his father was not a Communist -- have had the courage to do so had he not been taught by example?


Bill Kirton said...

Very moving and still chilling, Jackie. I'm not a religious person but I respect the values of those who are and it never fails to sadden me that so-called 'believers' can perpetrate divisive doctrines of hatred which their own faiths decry.

Jackie King said...

Thanks, Bill. I don't consider myself religious, either, I just love Jesus. (And don't let this freak you out. We Christians often give Him a bad name with our nonsensical churchianity and religiousity.)

And you're right. Such actions are chilling and they sadden me, too. It horrifies me that I strongly suspect that my own father, whom I never knew, was a Clan member.

Thanks for your comment.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree with you both. And thanks, Jackie, for the brief, litle known history of the KKK. My mother was born in Oklahoma, so I'm especially interested in that era.

Jackie King said...

Thanks, Jean for your response.