The Victory of Greenwood: E. L. and Jeanne Goodwin

by Carlos Moreno and David Goodwin
Photo of E.L. Goodwin courtesy of the Oklahoma Eagle.

Eleven-year-old Edwin Lawrence Goodwin arrived in Greenwood in 1914 with his sisters Anna and Lucille, brother James Jr., and parents James Henri and Carlie Greer Goodwin. The family had come from Water Valley, Mississippi, where James Henri prospered in the funeral business and real estate investments. The Goodwins left Mississippi to provide their children with better educational opportunities and to end living in a Jim Crow state and suffering its indignities, such as a Black person having to step off of the street to allow a white person the legal privilege to walk past. Like many Black families, they had come to Oklahoma hearing of the opportunities there, especially the Greenwood community growing into a bastion of freedom for Black Americans.

From Segregation to a Massacre

A.J. Smitherman arrived in Tulsa a year before James to continue the journalism and advocacy work he had begun in Muskogee. Smitherman got to know James’s sharp mind and entrepreneurial spirit and hired him as the Tulsa Star’s business manager in 1916. Theodore Baughman, who shared Smitherman’s dual passions for journalism and racial equality, served as the Star’s managing editor. James also founded the Jackson Undertaking Company with fellow Mississippian Samuel M. Jackson in 1917. As a third source of income, he continued his real estate investment practice, earning the family a comfortable living. For a time, it seemed that James had indeed avoided being limited by racial segregation and that Oklahoma was living up to its promise.

On the evening of May 31st, 1921, James was making preparations for the end of his children’s school year. His son E.L. was to take part in a play at Booker T. Washington High School. “The principal dismissed us by announcing that there was trouble, and that everybody was to go home,” E.L. recounted to Ruth Sigler Avery in a 1971 interview. It was the year that James’ son and daughter Anna were to both graduate and attend the play, followed by the High School’s prom. Sadly, the celebrations were not to be. The Stradford Hotel, which was to have hosted the prom for Booker T., would become one of the first buildings to succumb to gunfire and arson by the attacking white mob who had crossed the tracks to attack Greenwood’s business district.

While the school itself was spared, Greenwood’s business district and most of its homes were reduced to ashes. Documented in Mary E. Parrish-Jones’ book, The Events of the Tulsa Disaster,James lost his building, valued at $30,000 at the time. The Jackson Undertaking Company also lost their building, valued at $40,000, and was left with nothing but one hearse and an ambulance. According to an article in a compilation about the Massacre edited by Oklahoma House Representative Don Ross in 2003, James hired white men to guard his home from the mob who had come into the residential area to loot and burn everything in the neighborhood. An eerily prophetic passage written by young Edwin appears in the 1921 Booker T. Washington High School yearbook (printed before the Massacre): “I know not where my life should lead me, when death shall come. But this I know—He shall not find me unprepared and without a home.”

Life in Alsuma

The family remained in Greenwood for another 28 years. They continued to live at their home on Haskell Place on a hill located a half-mile from the business district. The family relocated to Alsuma in 1949. Annexed by Tulsa in 1966, today Alsuma is unrecognizable other than the Alsuma Soccer Complex near 51st and Mingo (used primarily for stormwater retention). At the time, Alsuma had a population of about 500, half Black and half white, divided by the Missouri/Kansas/Texas (MKT, or “Katy”) Railroad. Alsuma’s schools were segregated. There was a two-room schoolhouse for Black students where Jeanne taught grades 1-3 in one room. The second room was for grades 4-6. The white kids were bused to the white school at Union between 1949 and 1955. The town had one park where Black and white children played together, which nearby Tulsa’s segregation laws would have forbidden.

Local historian Eddie Faye Gates describes in her book, They Came Searching,that James Goodwin’s family hosted many of the most prominent national figures of their time, including scientist and inventor George Washington Carver. The tradition of hosting national figures would continue with their son E.L. Goodwin and his wife. Over the years, the Goodwin family opened their home to many famous people passing through the Tulsa area. They would host the likes of opera singer Marian Anderson, jazz singer Dinah Washington, Yolanda Du Bois (daughter of W.E.B. Du Bois), heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis and others. The family would call Alsuma home for most of E.L. Goodwin’s life.

E.L. Marries his College Classmate

Jeanne Osby was born in 1903 and grew up in Springfield, Illinois. Her father worked as a janitor at several local government offices, including the law office of Abraham Lincoln. For his services, he received the gift of a framed page from a newspaper ad for Abraham Lincoln’s law practice, which hangs today in the offices of the Oklahoma Eagle. Jeanne left home to attend college at Fisk University in 1927. She became a founding member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and met E.L. Goodwin, a dashing football player with the nickname “Sugar Man.” After the couple graduated, E.L. with a degree in business and Jeannie with degrees in social work and education, they were married in Clayton, Missouri, in 1927 and moved to join E.L.’s family in Tulsa.

At first, the young Goodwins struggled to make ends meet, with Jeanne working as a teacher and E.L. establishing a succession of businesses with varying degrees of success. First, he opened a haberdashery, a popcorn stand, a bar, and later a “policy wheel” (a lottery). Policy wheels were illegal but not uncommon in Tulsa, just as it was not unusual for many women to make extra cash brewing up batches of bathtub gin and choc beer. For the most part, local law enforcement looked the other way, only making occasional arrests when it would make them look good in  Tulsa’s newspapers.

An Eagle born from Sun and Star

A year prior to the Massacre, Theodore Baughman left the Tulsa Star and established a competing newspaper, the Oklahoma Sun, down the street at 103 N. Greenwood Ave. The offices of both newspapers lay in ruins as a result of the 1921 Massacre. Smitherman quickly fled Tulsa, having been charged with inciting a riot. While Greenwood was preparing to rebuild, Baughman salvaged some of the printing equipment from the Tulsa Star’s office and established a new office from the ruins of the Gurley building at 117 N. Greenwood Ave. Baughman also renamed his newspaper The Oklahoma Eagle.

By the early 1930s, E.L. Goodwin was irritated with his businesses operating in fits and starts. He was also frustrated with being vilified in Tulsa’s daily white newspapers. He saw in Baughman’s Eagle an opportunity to move upward in status and maintain stability. He offered to buy the Eagle multiple times and Baughman refused every offer. However, persistence paid off and Baughman made a deal for E.L. to purchase a controlling interest in the Eagle in 1936. When Baughman passed away in 1937, E.L. inherited the paper.

The Eagle’s current website features a few words from E.L. about this newfound opportunity: “…I decided that I would dedicate the rest of my life fighting for the things that I knew that black people needed and never had in order to elevate them to a higher social level, a higher economic level, then that they’d been accustomed to.” He moved the Eagle’s offices back to the site of the original Tulsa Star, at 126 N. Greenwood. On the masthead of the paper, E.L. added the words, “We make America better when we aid our people.” Soon after the paper was purchased, E.L.’s father helped finance it and assisted in the management duties. From this time forward, the Eagle would be a family-owned and operated newspaper.

Now an established and respected newspaperman, E.L. found himself at ease with people from all walks of life: from those who operated outside the law like the folks from his policy wheel days to the white men in the highest seats of power. In an interview with the History Makers Digital Archive in 2004, E.L.’s son Robert Kerr Goodwin recalls an encounter that his father had in the 1940s with Robert’s namesake. At a point when the Goodwins were struggling to maintain the newspaper and his law practice, E.L. found himself in the middle of an alleged scheme to burn down a masonic lodge in Tulsa to collect the insurance money. The arson was botched and E.L. was criminally charged for the unraveled plot. He found himself having to come up with a large sum of money in order to clear his name. E.L. had a close relationship with Oklahoma U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr and went to him for help. Kerr wrote a check on the spot, asking only one question: “Am I giving this to you or am I loaning it to you?” Goodwin responded, “No, Senator. It’s a loan.” With that, the matter was resolved.

In 1938, E.L. Goodwin helped found the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce with 13 co-founders, including E.W. Clarke, Amos T. Hall, M.M. Mann, Thomas R. Gentry, Robert Fairchild and Rev. J.N. Wallace. In 1951, the Greenwood Chamber would play a large part in establishing the Tulsa chapter of the National Urban League. The Chamber contributed $2,000 to create the Tulsa Urban League with E.W. Clarke, Amos T. Hall and E.L. Goodwin as its first leaders. Lutheran pastor Karl E. Lutze recalls in his autobiography Awakening to Equality that E.L. and Jeanne welcomed him to Tulsa’s Black community even though he was an outsider. The newly-ordained white clergyman from Wisconsin was given a regular column in the Oklahoma Eagle. Later, as part of Lutze’s ministry, he would become a civil rights activist and volunteer for the Greenwood Chamber, the Urban League and the Hutcherson YMCA. During this time, the Eagle was instrumental in bringing news of the civil rights sit-ins (the first one led by Clara Luper at the Katz Drugstore in Oklahoma City) to the Tulsa area and advocating for the desegregation of employee facilities in downtown Tulsa hotels.

E.L. went back to college in 1952, graduating with a law degree from the University of Tulsa in 1957. He then joined Charles Owens law practice in 1965. They were to practice law until E.L.’s death in 1978. That same year, Goodwin would make one last contribution to Greenwood: a deal with the City of Tulsa to preserve what little remained of Greenwood after urban renewal and the Tulsa Model Cities project bulldozed nearly the entire community. The last business still operating on Greenwood Avenue was the Oklahoma Eagle. Goodwin refused to sell his building to the City unless they agreed to allow him to buy the land and buildings along Greenwood from the highway to Archer Street. The City agreed, and after Goodwin’s death, plans began to restore the buildings so that they could be occupied by Black entrepreneurs once again.

Jeanne Goodwin’s Impact in Tulsa

Jeanne Goodwin wrote a social column in the family’s paper called “Scoopin’ the Scoop! By Ann Brown” for over 50 years. She then convinced Froug’s, a Tulsa department store, to sponsor her articles. For the entire run of Jeanne’s “Scoopin’ the Scoop!” column, the store paid for 40 column-inches of page three in each issue. Of the newspaper, Jeanne remarked in an academic paper by Karen F. Brown at the University of South Florida entitled The Oklahoma Eagle: A Study of Black Press Survival, “After 1979, we had some reverses, but, by the grace of God, we have been able to survive. We’re now beginning to see the light…It has been a family labor… Just sheer drive… and maybe we’ve been too persistent. Maybe we should have let it go. But when you have a dream, you just keep on keeping on.”

The Goodwins had eight children: Edwyna, Jo Ann, Ed Jr., Jim Osby, Jeanne, Carlie, Robert Kerr and Onetha Manuel Goff Scott, who attended the Industrial Institute for the Deaf, Blind and Orphans of the Colored Race in Taft, Oklahoma while E.L. served as the school’s director. The couple took Onetha in and raised her as their own. While taking care of her family and working for the newspaper, Jeanne Goodwin also taught in segregated public schools for 38 years, including Booker T. Washington High School, the Alsuma school, Bixby’s Snake Green School and Fulton Elementary School in southeast Tulsa. She successfully advocated to desegregate Bixby schools. According to the book Black Wall St. by local historian Hannibal Johnson, Jeanne became the first Black member of the Philbrook Museum in the 1960s. After her retirement, she worked as a community organizer and social worker. She lived to be 102 years old, passing in 2006. Jim Goodwin recalls, “My mother’s philosophy was ‘Get better, not bitter.’”

The Goodwin Legacy Continues

Of E.L. Goodwin Sr., Eddie Faye Gates wrote in They Came Searching, “[His] life is a ‘how-to’ lesson to the Tulsa community, a lesson about holding on to and perpetuating one’s dream, about strong family values, about standing up and even conquering adversity.” Goodwin’s children have embodied this spirit and continue his legacy.

After earning his undergraduate degree from Oral Roberts University and his masters degree in philosophy from San Francisco Theological Seminary, 24-year-old Robert Kerr Goodwin returned to Tulsa in 1973 to run the Oklahoma Eagle for 10 years. After leaving the Eagle and working in higher education, he contributed to an aggressive campaign to encourage Black voters to cast their ballots for George H.W. Bush. The president later appointed him to serve in the United States Department of Education, where he led the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges. In 1995, he became the president and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, a position he would hold for over 15 years.

Jeanne was especially concerned about making sure that her son Jim would have the opportunity to get a good education. Young Jim had lost his right arm in a train accident at the age of nine. By chance, she overheard a conversation at a beauty parlor that Tulsa oil baron Joseph A. LaFortune was on the board at Notre Dame University. She put together a package of Jim’s school records, references and academic awards. Delivering this package personally to Mr. LaFortune’s home, she requested that he consider helping him get admitted to the school. Jim was admitted to Notre Dame and graduated in 1961.

Jim Goodwin and his elder brother Ed Goodwin, Jr. would be handed the reins to the Oklahoma Eagle in the early 1980s. Ed Jr. had joined the newspaper many years earlier, during a time when setting type for a printing press had to be done by hand. He earned his journalism degree from Pittsburg State University in Kansas. Rarely seen without a camera in his hand, Ed Jr. was a brilliant photographer, journalist and editor. He was also well known as a walking, talking encyclopedia of North Tulsa history.

In the 1980s, the brothers moved the operation to its current location at 624 East Archer Street, the old site of Mabrie’s Garage and Storage, where Jim Goodwin continues to run the newspaper along with his legal practice. Ed Goodwin, Jr. passed away in 2014. Jim Goodwin’s daughter Jeanne serves as the Eagle’s editor and manages its day-to-day operations. The Oklahoma Eagle is Oklahoma’s longest-running Black-owned newspaper and the 10th oldest Black-owned paper in the nation.

Ed Goodwin, Jr.’s daughter Regina began her career as the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist. In 2015, she was elected to serve as State Representative for House District 73. During her tenure at the State House, she has opposed the Tulsa Police Department for excessive use of force, successfully advocated for Tulsa to end its contract with LivePD and convened a study on furthering criminal justice reforms. She has also had an active role in seeking justice for the descendants of the 1921 Massacre. Her collaboration with Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper to replace dollar stores with locally-owned, healthy food options launched a nationwide conversation about the prevalence of dollar stores in majority Black communities.

In his 1948 book The Negro Newspaper, Ohio historian Vishnu Oak wrote that most early Black newspapers were one-man operations, printed for the most part in white shops and usually terminated when the owner died. The Oklahoma Eagle was one of the first Black newspapers to break this mold and holds an important place in Black journalism in the United States. E.L. and Jeanne’s descendants have worked hard to keep the business alive through turbulent years and into the 21st century.

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