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Author Hannibal B. Johnson: The Sawners and the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission

  • Broadcast in History
Walter Davis

Walter Davis


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This show will be with author Hannibal B. Johnson. We will be discussing his books about the Sawners of Chandler and the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission.

Hannibal B. Johnson is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He did his undergraduate work at The University of Arkansas, where he completed a double major in economics and sociology. Johnson is an attorney, author, and independent consultant specializing in diversity & inclusion/cultural competence issues and nonprofit governance.

Juxtaposed against the grim realities of black life at the turn of the twentieth century, the lives of George and Lena Sawner shone like the blazing sun on an oven-hot August day in Oklahoma. Educated, professional, and economically stable—well-off by most standards—the Sawners lived the American dream, accompanied, periodically, by nightmarish reminders of the realities of race.

The couple owned a home, rental property, stocks, businesses, and two cars. They hobnobbed with local, state, and national dignitaries. They vacationed in faraway places like Montreal, Canada. The Sawners excelled in their respective spheres and claimed the social, political, and economic accoutrements commensurate with their successes. Material trappings and stature aside, the Sawners never severed their roots.

Despite their undeniable attainments, the Sawners, like other African Americans in Oklahoma, often swam against the current, regularly battling waves of bigotry and intolerance. Reminiscent of the Jim Crow South, the political waters in Oklahoma, particularly as they cascaded over racial matters, became increasingly contaminated.