A. J. Smitherman organized African American resistance against mob violence, distributed a strong, Democratic, African American newspaper in Oklahoma and the East Coast, and played a major role in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Smitherman worked with W. H. Twine on the Muskogee Cimiter, an African American newspaper at Muskogee, Oklahoma, before beginning his own newspaper, the Muskogee Star, in 1912. One year later he moved the Star to Tulsa. Smitherman, born in 1885, reportedly practiced law, like Twine, in addition to operating his newspaper.
Smitherman's Tulsa Star distributed his staunch Democratic ideals to black subscribers in an era whenS Republicans dominated the African American landscape. The owner also preached self-reliance and militant action to protect against the tide of racial violence occurring around the country at the time. Smitherman consistently lectured to the community the necessity of arming itself and protecting its brethren from lynching. To further show his commitment, Smitherman would rush to the scene of Oklahoma racial conflict to provide assistance, not only to report it. After an outbreak of lynchings in 1920 Gov. J. B. A. Robertson organized an interracial conference and invited Smitherman to be one of the African American leaders involved.
The 1921 destruction of the Greenwood District of Tulsa by white mobs destroyed Smitherman's press, business, and residence. Seemingly blamed by white Tulsa for inciting the incident and charged by the courts with rioting, he fled Tulsa for the East Coast. Extradition efforts failed, and the case never developed for trial.
After leaving Tulsa, Smitherman resided in Springfield, Massachusetts, and eventually started another newspaper. In 1925 he moved to Buffalo, New York, and worked for other African American newspapers. In 1932 he founded the Buffalo Star, later named the Empire Star. A. J. Smitherman died in June 1961, and his newspaper folded soon afterward.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1982). Larry O'Dell, "Andrew J. Smitherman, the Tulsa Star, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921," The Chronicles of Oklahoma (Fall 2002). Roland E. Wolseley, The Black Press, U.S.A. (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1971).
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