Films of Greenwood post-riot and Oklahoma's African-American communities in the 1920s

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Tulsa's Greenwood Ave, west side looking south, circa 1925, from S. S. Jones film collection

100 block of N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, west side looking south toward Archer, 1924 or 1925, just three years or so after this block was destroyed in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

It is an exciting thing to see Greenwood alive as it was in its heyday.

The Solomon Sir Jones collection of films, discovered about seven years ago by Oklahoma historian Currie Ballard, is available for viewing on the website of Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. In 2006, Ballard was concerned about finding a home for these rare and precious films documenting the resilience and industry of African-Americans in Oklahoma. Within three years, the films were available through Global Image Works. Now Yale is making them available for viewing and download.

Dr. S. S. Jones was a Baptist pastor in Okmulgee, a denominational leader, and a businessman. This collection consists of about six hours worth of film, in 29 reels, of African-Americans in Oklahoma in the mid-1920s. Jones had a good 16 mm camera and a kit for making titles using white letters on a black background; nearly every segment has an identifying title.

Jones would occasionally insert other films or shots of photographs. Film 18 begins with a short, stock clip of Pacific coast fishermen. That was followed by a procession of 71 white-robed baptismal candidates and hundreds of other church goers entering First Church in Okmulgee. I could imagine Jones showing this silent film to a group and narrating something about being fishers of men.


Starting about 5 minutes in, there are extended clips of Tulsa's Greenwood District: The S. D. Hooker Dry Goods company at 123 N. Greenwood; smartly-dressed members of the Tulsa Business League; photos of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, destroyed just two months after it was dedicated, and then film of the church as it was at the time -- just the basement that survived the riot; the C. B. Bottling Works at 528 E. Archer (SW of Archer and Greenwood); street scenes on Greenwood, including a funeral procession of cars; students at the noon hour at Booker T. Washington High School and on the playground and in the agricultural gardens at Dunbar Elementary School.


Marching band (in white) and convention delegates at the Tulsa Municipal Theater for the 1927 National Baptist convention.

On film 28 there is about three minutes footage of C. C. Pyle's Bunion Derby, including close-ups of winner Andy Payne and many of the other runners.


Of course, this isn't just about Tulsa. Okmulgee, Muskogee, Taft, Boley, Okay, Langston, Porter, Coweta, Hugo, Bristow, Wetumka are among the other Oklahoma cities and towns featured in these movies.

This is really exciting stuff.

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Graychin said:

Fascinating stuff!

It would be interesting to know the backstory of where these films were residing all these years before being rediscovered.

Paul Uttinger said:

Thanks for posting these links, Michael.

On Film 28, the bunion derby footage is from Lee School and vicinity. The Sunset Court Apartments appear briefly at time mark 12:00 and then again at 14:15. Notice the open and relatively barren landscape along 21st St, just west of Cincinnati.

At 14:24, there's a very quick pan of a streetscape. I'm guessing that's at 19th and Cincinnati. The bungalow on the southeast corner of that intersection looks as though it could be the same house shown in the film.

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