Monthly Archives: June 2014

Three counties could decide Oklahoma’s next U.S. Senator

The Republican primary coming up June 24, and the runoff likely to follow, could be Oklahoma’s most important election in a decade. The supposed frontrunners, T.W. Shannon and James Lankford, are young men who could easily represent the state in Washington for the next quarter century. Sure, there will be a general election in November with two other names on the ballot, but the Republican primary is the election that matters.

And it will be largely decided by just three of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.

Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties account for nearly half of the state’s 860,000 registered Republicans. Add Canadian County and the total goes above 50 percent.

Notwithstanding early strength in the northern tier of counties, the Oklahoma GOP has always been an urban party. It is one reason it had so much difficulty in the the first sixty years of statehood. Up until about 1970, a Democrat could win a statewide general election without carrying Oklahoma or Tulsa counties. Those days are long gone.

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The story that never goes away

In late 1999, I was assigned to pick up the Tulsa World’s coverage of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. As part of that assignment, I was to begin collecting materials for our own files.

At that time, most newspapers’ primary research resources were microfilm of past copies and “clip files.” The latter were so-called because each day’s editions were cut up, or “clipped,” and the individual stories placed in envelopes filed by subject. In newspaper parlance, these stories are known as “clips.” Thus, clip files.

Our clip files on Tulsa’s May 31-June 1, 1921 clip file was sparse, to say the least. The oldest clip was from 1949, was just one paragraph long, and had the riot’s date wrong. There was nothing particularly unusual about this, by the way. Our files contained very few clips on any subject that predated World War II, and the ones we did have seemed to be completely random. Our pre-war photo collection was even scantier and more haphazard.

By the time I became involved with researching and writing about the riot, quite a lot of work had been done preserving the oral history, going back to the early 1970s. Comparatively little, on the other hand, had been toward compiling and analyzing contemporary written accounts of the riot. Because my background was in newspapers, and because part of my assignment was to compile an archive for the newspaper, that is where I began.

I knew the basic outline of the story, but really didn’t know what I would find once I started digging into the microfilm. The commonly held belief, I knew, was that the city’s two daily newspapers at the time, the morning World and afternoon Tribune, had written little or nothing about the riot, and whatever they did report was almost certainly unreliable. But our executive editor, Joe Worley, told me to find what I could and let the chips fall.

What I found was a treasure trove of information, although sometimes in form that only someone familiar with newspapers — and especially the World and the Tribune — could fully appreciate. The World, with a small staff, put out four editions the night and morning of the riot, and while the reporting was sometimes confused and contradictory it was plentiful. The riot dominated the front pages of the newspapers throughout the summer of 1921.

Over the last 14 1/2 years, I’ve read every issue of the World from June 1, 1920 through the end of 1921, and ever 1921 issue of the Tribune. Those, in turn, have led me to city and county records, state archives, countless publications and innumerable on-line archives.

This much I’ve learned: the story is both simpler and more complex than most people imagine.

My friend Michelle Place at the Tulsa Historical Society said recently that THS still gets more inquiries about the riot than any other subject. I can believe this. It is a fascinating, maddening subject I think about, research or write about almost every day.

For me, it has become a story that never goes away.

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June 4, 2014 Oklahoma’s most unlikely congressman

Americans grumble about how crazy the members of Congress sometimes act, but Oklahoma had one who was downright certifiable.

His name was Manuel Herrick, and he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1920 through an improbable fluke and Herrick’s own persistence.

Herrick’s mother believed him to be literally the second coming of Jesus Christ, and called him “Emmanuel.” Manuel, as he preferred to be called, was similarly delusional. In 1893, after he was arrested trying to rob a train, Herrick was ruled insane and institutionalized. When he got out, he tried to establish himself as a preacher but no church would have him. He ran for a number of local offices in Noble County, where the Herrick family had settled in 1892, with no success. In 1918 he received a total of 56 votes as an independent candidate for Oklahoma’s Eighth Congressional District.

In 1920, Herrick filed as a Republican. He had little chance against the Republican incumbent, Dick Morgan. Morgan, in fact, was so popular no other Republican bothered to file against him. There was just one problem: Morgan died on the last day of the filing while traveling out of state. Herrick became the GOP’s candidate, and in the Republican landslide of 1920, he won with relative ease.

In Washington, Herrick created a furor by announcing he intended to conduct a beauty contest in order to chose his wife; he wound up being sued by one of the women when no marriage proposal ensued. Herrick was defeated in 1922 and spent the next decade vainly trying to regain his place in Congress. He later moved to California, where he made one final bid for Congress.

In 1952, Manual Herrick froze to death in a blizzard.

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June 3, 2014 Links

As this blog develops, we’ll continue to add links to a variety of news and information sites. Today I’ve added the Tulsa World’s web page for the 1921 Race Riot. It includes front pages and stories from the time of the race riot, a time line and other useful information. I’ve also added the Tulsa Historical Society. Let me know of any sites you’ve found useful.

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June 2, 2014

Heard much discussion today about the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl, an American service member who went missing in 2009 and has apparently spent most of that time a prisoner. There are solid arguments all around, but one of the things that strikes me is the decision the authorities had to make. To say no would have been to sign Bergdahl’s death warrant. By saying yes, the administration may have signed the death warrant’s of future terrorism victims.

These five exchanged prisoners are supposed to spend the next year in Qatar custody. It will be interesting to see what happens to them.

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