Willard McCullough (1867-1954)

A humble, forgotten hero of the Tulsa Race War is the tall, kindly, 54-year-old white sheriff who faced down Klansmen, carloads of gunpacking blacks, and a hostile white crowd alike, all while successfully guarding the young Negro boy whose accusation of assaulting a white girl triggered the cataclysm. Earlier that evening, he looked worried Greenwood co-founder O. A. Gurley in the eye, told him he had erected a virtual fortress around the accused Dick Rowland, and that “anybody who gets that boy up in the jail will have to kill me first.”


McCullough remained haunted by having to hang a black teenager convicted of murdering a white deputy a decade before. He also well knew of his predecessor’s allowing a mob to lynch a young white murderer less than a year before, as well as black Tulsa’s fears that McCullough would allow one of their own to suffer the same fate. He also warned Tulsa political leadership of the shady character of new Police Chief John Gustafson, in which McCullough was proved prophetic—in no small part by the Tulsa Race War.


In the end, even so wise and valorous a lawman as McCullough could not prevent a city from going to war with itself, but, virtually singlehandedly, he did keep the young “colored” man in his trust safe, and that man lived to be in his sixties.A. C. Jackson grew up the quiet, studious, gentle son of devout Negro parents in Guthrie, then Tulsa. His father Townsend had been a respected lawman even during Jim Crow segregation days, and had earlier preached a manly sermon of Christian charity and forbearance—including in racial matters—in Greenwood that displeased some of his more pugnacious but hardly more courageous colleagues.


A. C. graduated from Meharry Medical School in Tennessee, the nation’s finest such institution for blacks. In his two decades of surgical practice, he earned the distinction of “The most able Negro surgeon in America,” according to no less than the Mayo brothers who founded the Mayo Clinic. He counted white patients among his clientele, an unheard of phenomenon in that day, and he lived with his beautiful wife Julia in a lovely, modern brick home, amidst other black professionals, on Detroit Avenue, the boundary between Greenwood and white Tulsa. Blacks lived in the houses on the east side of the street, whites across from them.


Jackson had no involvement in the violent overnight events of May 31-June 1, 1921. The next morning, however, he walked out of his house as armed whites rampaged through Greenwood at the end of the fighting. Out front, Jackson raised his hands and, according to his white friend and neighbor, retired judge John Oliphant, an eyewitness, told them, “Here I am. I want to go with you.”


Despite Oliphant’s plea of, “That’s Dr. Jackson, don’t hurt him,” a teenaged hothead shot him in the chest, knocking him down, then another young white man shot him again as he lay on the ground. Before the day was out, A. C. Jackson’s home was in ashes and he was dead. If the Tulsa Race War possessed an apotheosis, it may well have been this bitter loss to Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and America.

 

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Oklahomans Vol 2 :

Statehood - 2020s

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