By Matt Schudel, Washington Post
Otis G. Clark, 18, was living in Greenwood, a thriving African American section of Tulsa, when it was destroyed in one of the most deadly race riots in U.S. history.
During a night almost erased from history, Clark dodged bullets, raced through alleys to escape armed mobs and saw his family’s home burned to the ground. He fled Tulsa on a freight train headed north.
He eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he was the butler for movie star Joan Crawford. He later turned to preaching, known as the “world’s oldest evangelist.”
Clark died May 21 in Seattle at age 109, a living witness to a night of horror, when Greenwood died.
“Oh, child, we had what you might say a little city, like New York or Chicago,” Clark told author Tim Madigan, recalling the life of Greenwood for the 2001 book “The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.”
“We had two theaters, two pool halls, hotels, and cafes, and stuff. We had an amazing little city.”
Greenwood had 15,000 residents, a 65-room hotel, several banks and two newspapers. It also faced, on its border, growing racial resentment from an emboldened presence of the Ku Klux Klan.
On the final day of May 1921, white mobs were sparked into action by rumors that a young Black man had improperly touched a white female elevator operator. Armed vigilantes were deputized by the local police, giving them the legal standing of a militia, as they gathered on the edge of Greenwood.
Mr. Clark had to flee his house.
“Gunfire and the blaze from the fire was getting closer,” he told the Tulsa World in 2000, “and all we had on our minds was getting out of the house before the ‘war’ got there.”
He ran through streets and alleys until he saw a cousin: “I jumped in the car and we hadn’t gone two blocks before we turned this corner and ran right into a crowd of white men coming toward us with guns.”
Running for his life, Mr. Clark eventually reached some train tracks, where he hopped on a freight car. He didn’t get off until he was in Milwaukee.