As a retired judge, David Shaheed has spent plenty of time researching the legal profession and preparing presentations for various groups. That’s what he was doing in 2020, looking into Black Wall Street, when he kept coming across the same name: J.B. Stradford.
Stradford was a pioneer of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and survived the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921. And, as Shaheed learned, Stradford was a graduate of the Indianapolis College of Law, a predecessor of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
“That’s kind of amazing,” said Shaheed, who graduated from the law school in 1984, “because I’ve never heard of that.”
Around the same time, another graduate, Nicole Burts, was doing research on the Red Summer of 1919 and found a podcast about Black Wall Street that she listened to on the road. That’s when she first heard Stradford’s name.
“For me, it feels like total alignment, like divine intervention,” said Burts, who graduated in 2017. “I believe nothing happens by coincidence or accident. I believe it was divine timing.”
The law school will host a virtual event at 5 p.m. Sept. 10 to recognize Stradford, who graduated in 1900 and practiced law before moving to Oklahoma. Descendants of Stradford’s are also expected to be part of the event. Register here.
Shaheed and Burts both went to the law school with their information about Stradford. Shaheed got there first, asking for confirmation that he graduated from the school. Burts soon followed. The two ended up on a committee to do research into Stradford’s life and put the program together.
Patricia Kinney, assistant dean of diversity and inclusion, called them the “rockstars” of the project.
“A lot of times we talk about how not diverse the legal profession is,” Kinney said. “You walk down the halls and you don’t see a lot of faces of color in the old deposits.”
There will eventually be a painted portrait of Stradford at the law school.
“If we don’t make an effort to preserve our history, a lot of the important people in our history and a lot of important Americans, their stories would be lost,” Shaheed said.
Stradford was born in 1861 in Kentucky. He was named J.B. after John the Baptist and wrote a memoir that was passed through the family, which is where much of the research for the project came from. The committee also looked at the Black press of the day, including the Recorder.
In Oklahoma, Stradford built a 65-room hotel where many Black musicians and celebrities would stay because of segregation. The hotel was burned to the ground during the race riot.
Stradford was an active critic of lynching and led a protest in May 1921 against the arrest and threatened lynching of a Jewish man. He also organized a group of men to successfully advocate for a young Black man charged with assaulting a white woman.
Stradford had a son, C. Francis Stradford, who became a prominent attorney in the Chicago area and was president of the National Bar Association.
The elder Stradford died Dec. 22, 1935, in Chicago. His obituary was published in the Recorder.
“Having observed what the denial of training meant in his early manhood he had a burning desire to see young men of the race well educated,” the obituary read.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.