Scholars and history buffs have been experiencing a renewed interest in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, which resulted in the deaths of as many as three hundred people and destroyed the wealthiest black community in America. This article is not intended to recite well-told histories of the ‘riot,’ or to reveal newly found information. Rather, this work is an attempt to layer into the analysis of the Tulsa Race Riot sociological considerations of gender, with a specific focus on how white men and black men performed their interpretations of masculinity. Attempting to defend and/or lay claim to the benefits of traditional American manhood, white and black male Tulsans engaged in a direct competition steeped in race, class, and gender. So far, studies have focused mostly on race and class. A gender analysis reveals a nuanced yet powerful display of the acquisition, acceptance, and assertion of historic notions of race, authority, strength, and manhood in the Jim Crow South.
“You’ve become it,” Larry King advised the woman he was hosting on his nationally syndicated talk show, for the seventh time in six months. Seconding the opinion of a caller who had referred to her as “the spokesperson across America for all the World Trade Center […] and plane victims,” King would permit no polite demurrals from his guest: “By choice or not, you’re it” (Larry King Live, 22 Feb. 2002). “It” by that moment, early in 2002, Lisa Beamer surely had become: if not exactly the “spokesperson,” the preeminent witness to the trauma of 9/11 and the event’s most widely recognized celebrity. Wife of the man whose call “Let’s roll!” helped rally fellow passengers to action on a hijacked flight above Pennsylvania, five months pregnant at the time of her loss, Beamer came to be known as the “hero widow.”