Robert Littlejohn(1936-2011)

by Shawna Lewis


“He was our most excellent historian,” North Tulsa Historical Society President Charlotte Bates said at Littlejohn’s funeral. “He was very instrumental in correcting the history of those of African descent.”

Littlejohn was active in just about every historical club in Tulsa and was often recognized as the go-to guru of North Tulsa history. He hosted tours, advised documentary filmmakers and presented new views on the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.

The widely-accepted belief was that the Race Riot began as a commotion on an elevator. Dick Rowland, a black man, had allegedly “assaulted” seventeen-year-old elevator operator Sarah Page. The police were called, and the resulting newspaper headlines heightened tension between the black and white communities. The incident was believed to be the final straw that sent rioters into chaos and left Greenwood burned to the ground two days later.

But Littlejohn insisted that the elevator episode never happened. His evidence revealed that the building where the incident allegedly occurred was closed for Memorial Day.

His theory—accepted by many of his colleagues, including Dr. Olivia Hooker, the late Dr. John Hope Franklin and the Tulsa Race Riot Commission—goes so far as to claim that the Race Riot was not a spontaneous mob, as previously recorded, but was actually a planned scheme to take valuable land from black property owners.

Littlejohn also argued that Rowland was in a romantic relationship with Page, and that she was likely a prostitute working for Rowland.

In spite of his stance, none shied away from his funeral service, as the church was full and parking was scarce. On a warm Thursday morning, proud friends and family members flocked to Morningstar Baptist Church in North Tulsa.

Not a soul in sight was donning anything less than their finest black suit, most women in bedazzled, feathered Sunday hats. A choir sang beautiful renditions of “Marvelous” and “Total Praise,” and politicians sent statements of sympathy. Speaking at Littlejohn’s funeral were representatives from the Tulsa

Archeological Society, the North Tulsa Historical Society, the Schusterman Foundation and many admirers.

Ron Graham, listed in the program as “one who Bob mentored and counseled,” said he followed Littlejohn and his historian colleagues everywhere, eager to hear their stories.

“If they went somewhere, I’d want to go too,” he said. “But he always told me, ‘You do your own research. See what they have, then go do your own research.’”

Note: This article was originally published June 11, 2011