June 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Recently, National Library of Medicine (NLM) archivist John Rees fielded a reference email from Jon Adams seeking historical materials about his relative Dr. Andrew C. Jackson, a prominent Black physician working and living in the Greenwood section of Tulsa that was the epicenter of the event. Dr. Jackson was murdered during the massacre, an event that was widely-reported in newspapers and medical journals across the country. We are grateful to Mr. Adams for sharing his research and family history related to this major event in American history.
Circulating Now: Thank you for reaching out and speaking with us about your relative Dr. Andrew C. Jackson. To start, would you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your relationship to Dr. Jackson?
Jon Adams: I, along with my Dad, my uncle, my brothers, my sister and all of our children—we are all nephews of Dr. Andrew Chesteen Jackson (Uncle Andrew). We also are all grandchildren of Henry Augustus Guess (H.A. Guess), a prominent attorney in Tulsa in the early 1900s, and Minnie Mae Guess (née Jackson), Uncle Andrew’s older sister. Uncle Andrew’s wife, Julia A. Jackson was an educator in the Tulsa Public Schools, where the children of H.A. Guess and Minnie Mae Guess attended school.
I am currently living in Portland, Oregon. I have worked for the federal government since 2001 and am a volunteer freelance writer. My writing is a work in progress, but I am very passionate about what I write about.
CN: Dr. Jackson was a prominent Tulsa citizen and nationally regarded physician; his murder was specifically reported in several contemporary Tulsa World newspaper stories covering the massacre, its aftermath, and brief trial that absolved police of responsibility for his death. Over the last year, the story of his death has been in the news, for example on 60 Minutes and in Tulsa Black History Month features, as Tulsa prepared for the 100th anniversary of the massacre and began work to find mass graves.
“Dr. A.C. Jackson, negro, killed while fleeing from his home, which had been fired. He was the foremost colored physician in the southwest and was held in high regard not only by members of his own race, but also by many prominent whites. His body will probably be taken to Guthrie for burial.”
What do you know about his life in Tulsa prior to his death?
JA: Dr. Jackson was born in Memphis, Tennessee and graduated from Meharry Medical School. How the family got to Oklahoma is a bit of a mystery. Family lore has it that Dr. Jackson’s father, who served for the Union Army during the Civil War, often challenged the White status quo in Memphis until he was run out of town. The family ended up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where Dr. Jackson is buried alongside his mother Saphronia Jackson’s unmarked plot. My father placed a headstone on Dr. Jackson’s grave in 2013. My family and I visited there recently.
Most of the attention paid to Uncle Andrew is about him dying, ad nauseum. What is seldom talked about is the entire sweep of his life. He accomplished a lot in his 42 years on this earth and was recognized for his important work. To wit, the Mayo Brothers found his work nothing short of remarkable as recorded in several of his death notices. He spent some time training at the Mayo Clinic. I’m working with the Mayo’s archivists to find the training attendance signature books.
What is even more remarkable is that his subject matter expertise was treating infectious diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever, right in the middle of Spanish Influenza of 1918. Talk about eerie coincidences.
CN: You’ve been on a quest, collecting all sorts of records and documents, to better understand how Dr. Jackson lived and worked. What NLM resources have you found useful in your research?
JA: What impresses me most about NLM is that it houses the archives of the Journal of the National Medical Association (JNMA). In it, I found Uncle Andrew’s whereabouts, his subject matter and, most importantly, his spoken words reduced to writing in letters to the JNMA, some two weeks before he died. Dr. Jackson was a vice-president for the state of Oklahoma to the NMA at the time of his death and in 1921 JNMA printed a comment on his death, an appeal for the Tulsa Doctor’s Relief fund and an obituary.
CN: City directories are very good resources for learning where someone lived, their business address, who their neighbors were, what was the general business and occupational make-up of a city or town—a sort of mini-census and local history. Dr. Jackson was one of 15 Black doctors in Tulsa and he lived in a mixed-race neighborhood with successful Blacks and Whites. According to the 1921 Tulsa City Directory, he lived at 523 N. Detroit Ave. and his business address is shown as 503 N. Greenwood, which is not the intersection of Archer and Greenwood as his advertising card states.
Often, a great source for finding tangible local information about the physical nature of the home and neighborhood where someone lived are the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, now available online through the Library of Congress. However, Dr. Jackson’s home is not located on the 1915 Sanborn map of Tulsa, the only one contemporary to the event. In fact, the entire northern section of Greenwood is not even on the map.
What do you know about the neighborhood then and today?
JA: Yes, that inconsistency is a bit of a mystery. I just returned from visiting Tulsa and Greenwood. They have plaques placed in the ground all around the neighborhood identifying where the buildings once stood. I found the plaque for Dr. Jackson’s office at 503 Greenwood and our other relative H.A. Guess’s office. I took a picture of my son standing on the spot of Dr. Jackson’s office where an Oklahoma State University building now stands. Many of these places are just vacant lots today.
CN: There are a number of repositories holding accounts of the “race riots,” as the event was referred to at the time, including contemporary reporting from Black-owned newspapers like the Tulsa Star and Oklahoma City’s Black Dispatch, and interviews with Black citizens who lived in Greenwood. Some reports state the house was on fire, others state the riot had calmed down and he was offering himself up to the police with his hands raised. There was a suspect in his killing, but no one was ever arrested. He sent his wife away to Chicago the night before but stayed behind himself. Do you have any family folklore or thoughts about what happened?
JA: There are many stories and anecdotes about Uncle Andrew’s house, his cars and his involvement in the community. He lived next door to his White neighbor, John Oliphant, a judge in Tulsa. It was John Oliphant who admonished the mob not to shoot Uncle Andrew. To no avail.
Another family tale is that his wife Julia implored him to come with her to Chicago that first night before the riot started May 31. He sent her away; he said he was going to stay in Tulsa, that he knew these people and they him and if anything happened, he’d be needed anyway. She told him “They’re going to kill you.”
I am just beginning to build out an understanding of his life and haven’t begun to nail down all of the details. To be honest, my research started in earnest late last year. As I have admonished my family—some will have more information on your family member than you do. That’s always been my fear as the family has just begun to play catch-up with all the granular details of Uncle Andrew’s life.
CN: What is the most interesting artifact or document of Dr. Jackson’s that you have found?
JA: His letter to the JNMA just a few days before he was killed really strikes home. To think that those were some of his last words, written literally days before he died, is very powerful to me.
CN: What is the #1 item on your list of artifacts or documents you still hope to find about your relative?
JA: I’d want to see those original editorial letters written to JNMA in April and May of 1921 that are mentioned in volume 13. Looking for them was what led me to NLM in the first place, but so far no one knows where the NMA archives are located, or if they even survived from that time period. I’ve reached out the NMA, but they themselves do not have any information.
CN: Sometimes people feel removed from history, events that happened to other people long ago don’t seem real, but of course there is always a personal genealogy to historical figures. It has been a real pleasure making a connection with you and supporting your research. Are you and your family doing anything to commemorate Dr. Jackson’s death in the massacre and honor his legacy?
JA: Yes, my family and I traveled to Tulsa last week for the 100th anniversary memorial activities. We got to meet the families of many other survivors of the massacre. My grandfather, H.A. Guess, was a founding member of the Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) where many survivors hid during the massacre and which itself is one of the few surviving buildings in Greenwood. We went on two tours there. To see in person the places my uncle lived and worked and was killed were personally very moving. It reminded me of a passage from one of the JNMA articles about his death which stated the hope that his death would not be in vain. Although we’re now long separated by both generations and geography, keeping Dr. Jackson’s memory and story alive can still be a positive force.
Related online resources:
- Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 digital collection, Oklahoma State University
- Tulsa City-County Library History Resources Guide
- Tulsa Race Massacre, Oklahoma Historical Society Learning Resources
- Oklahoma Historical Society Oral Histories
- Greenwood Cultural Center
- Chronicling America newspaper archive
- Sanborn Fire Insurance maps