On May 31, 1921, Otis G. Clark was 18 years old. He was also living in the middle of one of the deadliest, racially-motivated events in American history: The Tulsa Race Riots. That night in May, Clark, a Greenwood, Oklahoma native, escaped flying bullets and angry white mobs, only to witness his family home burn down (1 of 1,200 homes that night).
This was the same settlement in which Clark was born, four years before Oklahoma was declared a state. He carried memories of childhood, where he sold vegetables and groceries to the locals (including the home for the ‘ladies of leisure’ in town). But during the riot, those familiar places were no more.
Although the people of Tulsa and surrounding areas kept silent about the details of the race riot for decades, stories of what happened that night eventually made their way to headlines. Rumors spread to the local authorities that a black man touched a white female elevator operator inappropriately. Anyone was given deputy rights and white mobs looked for street justice in the form of a small war on blacks in Greenwood.
Clark, who was on the run, witnessed a young man at the local mortuary get shot in the hand as he tried to get the ambulance to help those in need. Clark told the press that his stepfather’s body was never found and his family’s land and belongings were burned down. His dog was killed. Later estimates of casualties from the riot were around 300 people, the majority of which were African-Americans. The survivors of the riot were denied rights of their property and no concessions were given for the damages. Above all else, the people lived in fear.
That horrible night in May, Clark left his once peaceful city of 15,000 and hopped a train headed west.
Immediately looking for work, Clark and his new wife were hired as the butler and the cook for actress Joan Crawford. Clark hung out with friends Stepin' Fetchit and met the acquaintance of actors Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin.
Admitting to living a “wild streak” with Stepin' Fetchit, Clark began experimenting with the sale of bootleg liquor during the Prohibition period. This lifestyle landed him jail time, where he discovered religion. Once he was released, Clark decided to preach all over the world. The Greenwood, Oklahoma native-turned-evangelist finally made it to the continent of Africa to speak at age 103. His next stop was Jamaica.
Clark lived a long life in good health, but nothing could dispel his memories of the Tulsa Race Riots and the horrors he faced on that fateful day in 1921.
Clark died May 21, 2012 at age 109.