The Original Karens: From Emmett Till’s Accuser To The White Woman Who Sparked The Tulsa Massacre

The Original Karens: From Emmett Till’s Accuser To The White Woman Who Sparked The Tulsa Massacre

Carolyn Bryant, Ruby Bates, Sarah Page and others.

Published June 19th

Written by Clay Cane

In this current climate of protests and demands for justice, the entitled and indignant white women known as “Karens” appear to be falling apart. 

From Amy Cooper, whose over dramatic 911 call on a birdwatching Black man blew up in her face, to Lisa Alexander, who was shocked to discover that no one needs her permission to write “Black Lives Matter” in chalk on their own property, Karens are in a rage. Not even a camera in their face will stop their toxic entitlement, which has led to a string of viral sensations.

Over the weekend, #KarensGoneWild trended on social media with jaw-dropping videos of frantic white women attacking Black women, toddlers, teenagers and grown Black men. 

When thinking of the country’s experiences with white supremacist violence, the discussions are typically centered around men. However, white women have historically been at the helm of this terror, using their tears and imaginary delicateness as ammunition for victim hood and ultimately destroying lives or at its worst, taking one.

RELATED: Not Just Tulsa: Five Other Race Massacres That Devastated Black America

Once upon a time, even the slightest hint that white womanhood may be in danger resulted in the lynching of Black children or a thriving town full of Black families being burned to the ground.

Here are some of the most horrific stories of Karens going wild before the term came into existence. 

Sarah Page

There has been a lot of talk around Tulsa, Oklahoma due to this month's 99th anniversary of the tragic race massacre that took place there in1921. Many people may not know the race massacre began with a 17-year-old named Sarah Page.

Page was an elevator operator in what was called the Drexel Building in downtown Tulsa. On May 30, 1921, reportedly, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner, was getting on the elevator to use a segregated bathroom on a higher floor. He allegedly tripped when entering the elevator, accidentally grabbed Page's arm and she reacted by screaming. Rowland fled but the police were called. The next day, Rowland was arrested and word spread that a Black man assaulted a white woman.

According to the 2001 Tulsa Race Riot Commission Report via The Washington Post, Rowland was accused of assaulting Page “on a public elevator in broad daylight."  

Within 18 hours, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, also known as Black Wall Street, was annihilated. In 1921, The New York Times described the massacre as “one of the most disastrous race wars ever visited upon an American city.” 

No one knows what happened to Sarah Page or Dick Rowland after the massacre.

Fannie Taylor

On January 1, 1923, 22-year-old Fannie Taylor began screaming outside of her home. A neighbor rushed to the distressed white woman only to find her beaten and bruised, yelling for her baby. Miss Fannie claimed a Black man broke into her home and attacked her. The neighbor searched her house to find the baby safe and no signs of a break in.

Rumors quickly spread that Taylor was raped and robbed by a Black man. Taylor’s husband, James Taylor, gathered a group of men to find the imaginary criminal, even calling on the Klu Klux Klan for assistance.

A pack of 400 terrorists headed to the neighboring area, an affluent Black town in Rosewood, Florida, accusing any Black man they could of the crime. Fannie’s fraudulent tears was the excuse these envious hellions needed to purge out their rage.

Their first victim was  Sam Carter, a local blacksmith, who was tortured and hung. They eventually began looking for a man named Jesse Hunter, who they claimed was an escaped convict.

The Black residents of Rosewood fought back but there were many casualties, including Sarah Carrier, a woman who did Fannie Taylor’s laundry. She was shot in the head, according to History.com. Her son Sylvester Carrier was also fatally shot.

The race massacre lasted for a week, burning Rosewood to the ground and killing countless Black people.

As for Fannie Taylor, she reportedly had an affair with a white man who beat her, which is why she had been found abused that night. She thought it was better to accuse a Black man of assault then to take accountability for her own actions.

The 1997 film Rosewood, directed by the late John Singleton, depicted the massacre.

See the clip below of actress Catherine Kellner as Fannie Taylor.

Eleanor Strubing

In December of 1940, Eleanor Strubing, a wealthy white woman in Connecticut accused her 31-year-old Black chauffeur, Joseph Spell, of raping her four times and throwing her into a river. Spell was arrested within hours  and immediately sent to jail to wait for trial.

The New York Times famously ran a story with the headline, "Mrs. J.K. Strubing Is Kidnapped And Hurled Off Bridge by Butler; WOMAN KIDNAPPED; HURLED OFF BRIDGE." The article claimed he “confessed after 16 hours" of questioning.

 Spell was facing 30 years in prison. 

Thankfully,  the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and its head lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, represented Spell. Marshall and his co-counsel proved evidence that Strubing lied. She, in fact, had consensual sex with Spell and jumped in the river because she was terrified that she might become pregnant from their affair. In her mind, the only option was to accuse Spell of rape in order to justify a possible pregnancy. 

An all-white jury found Joseph Spell not guilty, which was shocking for the time. Nonetheless, if this accusation would have been made in the South, Joseph Spell certainly would have died by public lynching.

Wil Haygood, the author of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, wrote about the ruling, "It was a miracle. But Thurgood Marshall trafficked in miracles.”

Strubing, whose father was an investment banker and the former governor of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, suffered no punishment for lying under oath. Her husband, John K. Strubing, died in 1961 and she remarried to John W. Barclay. Stribing died at 92 years old in 2000. 

Joseph Spell moved to East Orange, New Jersey after the trial. It’s not clear when he passed away.

The 2017 movie Thurgood was based on the Joseph Spell trial. See the clip below of Kate Hudson as Eleanor Strubing.

Carolyn Bryant

In August of 1955, 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of touching her and whistling at her in a store (he reportedly had a lisp and was unable to whistle.) Till, who was visiting from Chicago, was in Mississippi for the summer spending time with family. Within hours, he was kidnapped from his uncle’s home. The child was tortured, mutilated and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. His naked body was weighed down with a fan blade.

Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant and her brother-in-law J.W. Milam, the terrorists who lynched Till, were found not guilty by an all-white jury. 

In the 2017 book The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson, Carolyn Bryant admitted to lying and claimed that she actually didn’t remember what happened that day in the store.

She is still alive today, living in Mississippi at 86 years old. Emmett Till would have been 79 years old on July 25 if it wasn’t for Carolyn Bryant.

The 65th anniversary of his death is August 28.

See the clip below of Emmett Till's cousin reacting to Carolyn Bryant recanting her deadly, racist story.

Victoria Price and Ruby Bates

Before The Central Park Five in 1989, which would become the Exonerated Five in 2002, there was the Scottsboro Boys in 1932.

On Mach 25, 1931, a group of Black and white teenagers were riding freight trains looking for work, which was common during the Great Depression. The white teens wanted the Black teens off the train and a fight broke out. The white teens attempted to forcibly throw the Black teens from the train. In defending themselves, the Black teenagers instead kicked the white teens off the locomotive.

The angry white teens went to a local sheriff who demanded the train be stopped. 

Nine Black teens were removed, ages 13 to 19. However, two white women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, were also on the train and spent their time wrongfully accusing several of the Black boys of rape.

Similar to the Exonerated Five, that one accusation stole the innocence of nine Black children.

The teens were jailed in Scottsboro, Alabama: Haywood Patterson, 18; Clarence Norris, 19: Charlie Weems, 19; brothers Andy Wright, 19 and  Leroy Wright, 13; Olin Montgomery, who was nearly blind, 17; Ozie Powell, 16; Eugene Williams, 13, and Willie Roberson, 16, who could barely walk due to severe syphilis.

The all-white and all-male jury trial was over in a matter of days and all of them — except 13-year-old Leroy Wright — were found guilty of rape and given the death penalty. There was no evidence of course since Bates couldn’t identify the men she claimed raped her. 

The NAACP and the International Labor Defense (ILD), the legal wing of the American Communist Party, joined the case. By November 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Scottsboro defendants had been denied the right to counsel. Shortly after, Ruby Bates admitted she lied. 

Nonetheless, the back and forth with the courts continued for years. 

By 1936, Haywood Patterson was convicted of rape and sentenced to 75 years. In 1948, he escaped from prison and made it to Michigan. The governor refused to extradite him to Alabama. By 1951, Patterson was convicted of manslaughter after a barroom brawl. In 1952, he died of cancer. He was 39 years old. 

In July of 1937, Clarence Norris was eventually convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1946 and moved north, where he married and had children. His  autobiography, The Last of the Scottsboro Boys was released in 1979. He passed away in 1989 at 76 years old.

In July of 1937, Andrew Wright was convicted of rape and sentenced to 99 years. He was released in 1950 at 38 years old. Charlie Weems was also convicted of rape and paroled in 1943. He spent the rest of his life in Atlanta. It’s not clear when or if Wright and Weems have passed away.

Ozie Powell’s rape charges were dropped but he pled guilty to assaulting a deputy, which happened while in custody. He was released from prison in 1946. After spending four years on death row as adults, all charges against Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Leroy Wright were dropped.

It is not known how or when Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, or Ozie Powell died.

After being released, Leroy Wright, the youngest, went on a national lecture tour and then joined the Army. In 1959, according to PBS, Wright accused his wife of having an affair, fatally shot her and then committed suicide. He was 41 years old.  

As for Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, Price never recanted her testimony and died in 1982 at 77 years old. Bates had the privilege of going on a speaking tour, bizarrely, for  the International Labor Defense (ILD), which defended the Scottboro Boys. She claimed to have lied because she was "excited and frightened by the ruling class of Scottsboro." Bates died in 1976.

Below is a photo of Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. 

Photo Credit: Associated Press, NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

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