Roy Belton

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Roy Belton was an 18-year-old white man arrested with a female accomplice for the August 21, 1920 hijacking and shooting of Homer Nida, a Tulsa, Oklahoma taxi driver. Nida, hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the stomach, identified Belton as the person who robbed and shot him. Belton confessed, but told police the shooting was an accident. Rumors began to spread of mob justice if Nida died. With Nida still in the hospital, the Tulsa Tribune, a local newspaper published Belton's photo and stated that he "planned to escape on a plea of insanity".[1] When Nida did die, one week after being shot, his wife was quoted as saying "I hope that justice will be done for they have taken an innocent life and ruined my happiness. They deserve to be mobbed but the other way is better".[2]

That night a crowd gathered at the Tulsa County Court House, where the county jail was located on the top floor. Several armed men entered the building, where they confronted Sheriff James Wooley and ordered him to release Belton. They took Belton outside and drove him in his victim's taxi to a lonely road near Jenks, about nine miles outside Tulsa, and lynched him.[1] At the scene, local police kept onlookers away from Belton and his captors and directed traffic.[2][3]

Governor James Robertson condemned the lynching and tried to remove Wooley from his position. A grand jury investigated, but indicted no one. Police chief John Gustafson stated his disapproval of mob rule, but also warned that the public in Tulsa was not prejudiced against such an action. Both the Tulsa Tribune and the Tulsa World subsequently published editorials that spoke approvingly of the mob action.[1]

A. J. Smitherman, editor of the black-owned newspaper, Tulsa Star, realized that if a mob could lynch a white man, no black man would be safe if he were jailed. Later, he warned that blacks should take matters into their own hands if another black were arrested.[1]

Being aware of the earlier failure of Tulsa police to defend the white Belton against a lynch mob, some in the black community offered to help the sheriff's deputies defend Dick Rowland, a black prisoner, in actions leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

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  1. ^ a b c d Hirsch, James S. Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. 2002. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  2. ^ a b Ellsworth, Scott (1992). Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-1767-6. 
  3. ^ Walter F. White, "The Eruption of Tulsa", The Nation, June 29, 1921.