TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Hundreds of people
gathered Monday for an interfaith service outside the historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church
in Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood to dedicate a prayer wall commemorating the centennial of one of the nation's deadliest racist
National civil rights
leaders, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson
and William Barber
, joined multiple local faith leaders in offering prayers and remarks outside the church, which was largely destroyed when a white mob descended on the prosperous Black neighborhood in 1921, burning, killing, looting, and leveling a 35-square-block area, killing dozens to 300 people.
Barber, a civil and economic rights activist, stated that he felt "humbled even to stand on this holy ground."
“You can kill people, but you can't kill the blood's voice.”
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 Tulsa's Black community's resilience, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
As the ceremony concluded, participants placed their hands on the prayer wall along the side of the sanctuary while a soloist sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Traffic hummed on a nearby interstate that cuts through the Greenwood District, which was rebuilt after the massacre but gradually deteriorated 50 years later after homes were taken by eminent domain as part of urban renewal in the 1970s.
The commemoration of the massacre was supposed to culminate Monday with a “Remember & Rise” headline event at nearby ONEOK Field, featuring Grammy-award-winning singer and songwriter John Legend
and a keynote address from voting rights
activist Stacey Abrams. However, that event was canceled late last week after an agreement over monetary payments to three survivors could not be reached.
Disagreements among Tulsa's Black leaders over the handling of commemoration events, as well as millions of dollars in donations, have resulted in two separate groups planning separate slates of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary
of the Tulsa Race Massacre. In addition to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission
, the Black Wall Street
Legacy Festival has scheduled a series of separate events over the Memorial Day
Legend did not specifically address the event's cancellation in a statement tweeted Sunday, but said: "The road to restorative justice is crooked and rough — and there is space
for reasonable people to disagree about the best way to heal the collective trauma of white supremacy
. But one thing that is not up for debate — one fact we must hold with conviction — is that the path to reconciliation is crooked and rough."
The Centennial Commission plans to hold a candlelight vigil downtown on Monday night to honor the victims of the massacre, and President Joe Biden
will be in Tulsa on Tuesday.