The doctor's young housekeeper pressed her face to the attic window and stared trembling at the red ball burning the night sky over the city's black section.
"Don't go to Little Africa," the white doctor urgently told her. "Hell has broken out tonight."Seventy-five years later, LaVerne Davis knows nothing worse than the smoke she watched rise over Tulsa early June 1, 1921. By that day's end, thriving black businesses in a 35-block area had been torched. Hundreds of homes were charred. Estimates of the dead topped 250.
"It's a thing I shall never forget because it's the worst thing that ever happened in my life," said Davis, 92.
Tulsa tried to forget, though. No memorial was erected. Newspaper clippings about the riot were cut out of the city library's issues. The city didn't commemorate one anniversary.
For the first time, on Saturday, the city plans to remember, holding a service at a church that burned to the ground the day of the riot, then was rebuilt. A black granite monument will go up. And Davis and the other survivors will speak about where they were, what they saw.
The news had spread early in the warm evening of May 31, 1921, that a white mob was gathering downtown to lynch a black shoe shiner, accused of assaulting a white female elevator operator.
Robert Fairchild, now 92, remembered his high school graduation practice was abruptly canceled.
"I believe you better let these children go home," Fairchild heard a man say. "I believe there's going to be a conflict."
Fairchild knew the slightly older shoe-shiner named Dick Rowland. Fairchild watched as a group of black men headed downtown to help defend Rowland against the mob on the courthouse steps.
Across town, Evelyn Tucker's father burst into the family's house.
"Pull down the window shades, lock the doors," the white plumber told the 10-year-old's mother. "I don't know what's going on, but something's wrong."
Young Evelyn could hear gunfire in the distance. Her father left in the darkness with a .44-caliber pistol to see if anyone needed help.
"My father certainly was not an aggressive man," said Tucker, now 85. "He was aghast at what was happening."
What was happening in the neighborhood made Fairchild and his family flee.
"Momma!" he cried out. "They're setting the buildings on fire. Let's get out of here so they don't kill us!"
Terrified blacks ran down the railroad tracks to the north, away from the thick smoke that was consuming their homes and businesses. Many of them kept going, never to return.
The National Guard caught up with Fairchild about four miles later. Blacks were rounded up by the thousands and detained at the fairgrounds, convention hall and a baseball stadium. They were given food and water.
White children, including 8-year-old Philip Rhees, stared curiously as the soldiers escorted the blacks. He decided the guardsmen were his enemies and hid under his front porch, popping the soldiers in the rear with his BB-gun as they passed.
"I was bewildered," said Rhees, now 82. "I couldn't understand. Why are they after these people?"
Even as the city marks the fateful day, what exactly caused the violence to go out of control 75 years ago remains unclear.
In his 1982 book "Death in a Promised Land," author Scott Ellsworth said the first shot may have been fired when a white man tried to disarm a black man.
The violence that resulted killed anywhere from 27 to more than 250, no one is sure, Ellsworth wrote. Rowland was not hurt. The young woman later refused to bring charges against him.
Hundreds of black families fled Tulsa to escape the fires and possible attacks, making it impossible to determine who had left and who had been killed.
Davis believes the city can still heal.
"If I were to hear an apology for the acts of June 1, 1921, I would feel very relieved that surely minds have changed," she said. "And we should thank our Lord and Savior that we're here to see it for ourselves."