Hundreds of people gather in front of the prayer wall of the historic Tulsa church
Hundreds of people gathered Monday for an interfaith service dedicating a prayer wall outside the historic African Methodist Episcopal Church of Vernon in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa to mark the centenary of the first day of A the country’s deadliest racist massacres.
National civil rights leaders, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and William Barber, joined several local religious leaders offering prayers and remarks outside the church which was under construction and largely destroyed when a white mob descended on the prosperous Black Quarter in 1921 , torching, killing, looting and leveling a 35-square- block area. Estimates of the death toll range from tens to 300.
Barber, a civil and economic rights activist, said he was “humbled even to stand on this holy land”.
“You can kill people but you cannot kill the voice of blood.”
Although the church was nearly destroyed in the massacre, parishioners continued to meet in the basement, and it was rebuilt several years later, becoming a symbol of the resilience of Tulsa’s black community. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
At the end of the ceremony, participants put their hands on the prayer wall along the side of the shrine as soloist Santita Jackson sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Traffic hummed on a nearby freeway that runs through the neighborhood of Greenwood, which was rebuilt after the massacre but slowly deteriorated 50 years later after homes were taken by a prominent estate as part of urban renewal in the 1970s.
Among those speaking at the outdoor ceremony were U.S. Democratic Representatives Barbara Lee from California, and Lisa Brunt Rochester and U.S. Senator Chris Coons, both from Delaware. Rochester linked the reparations efforts in Tulsa to a larger effort: pending House legislation that would create a commission to study and propose reparations for African Americans.
“We are here to remember, to mourn, to rebuild fairly,” Rochester said.
On a rainy afternoon, visitors wearing rain gear walked along Greenwood Avenue, photographing historic sites and markers.
Many took the time to read plaques on the sidewalk, naming many black-owned buildings and businesses that were destroyed in the 1921 massacre and indicating whether they had ever been rebuilt.
Monday’s list of activities to commemorate the massacre was to culminate with an event titled “Remember & Rise” at nearby ONEOK Field, featuring Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter John Legend and a keynote address by the activist. voting rights Stacey Abrams. But that event was scrapped late last week after an agreement could not be reached on monetary payments to three survivors of the deadly attack, a situation which has highlighted broader debates over reparations for racial injustice.
In a statement tweeted on Sunday, Legend did not specifically address the event’s cancellation, but said, “The path to restorative justice is twisted and difficult – and there is room for reasonable people to fail. disagree on the best way to heal the collective trauma. of white supremacy. But one thing that is not for debate – a fact that we must remember with conviction – is that the path to reconciliation passes through truth and responsibility. “
On Monday evening, the Centennial Commission is scheduled to hold a downtown candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the massacre, and President Joe Biden is due to visit Tulsa on Tuesday.