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On 100th Anniversary, Thousands Turn Out To Commemorate Tulsa Race Massacre

Robert James Dean, Jr., a descendant of Tulsa Race Massacre, leans against the prayer wall at Vernon A.M.E Church in Tulsa, Okla. on Monday, May 31, 2021.
Jamie Glisson / Focus: Black Oklahoma
Robert James Dean, Jr., a descendant of Tulsa Race Massacre, leans against the prayer wall at Vernon A.M.E Church in Tulsa, Okla. on Monday, May 31, 2021.

Thousands gathered this weekend in Tulsa, Okla. to remember those killed 100 years ago in the Tulsa Race Massace. The events included concerts, marches and speeches from civil rights leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Monday's Candlelight Vigil

Hundreds of people gathered in the Greenwood District in Tulsa on Monday night for a candlelight vigil honoring the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Organizers of the event led a prayer and asked for ten minutes of silence at 10:30 p.m.

That was the time that the first shots rang out at city hall 100 years ago, causing a deadly night of violence when a white mob descended on Greenwood burning Black businesses and homes to the ground. It’s believed that more than 300 people died during the attack.

34-year-old Brandon Andrews traveled from Washington, D.C. to attend the weekend events. He learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre from a survivor named Otis G. Clarke, at the church he attended when studying at Oral Roberts University several years ago.

"Hearing about Black Wall Street and what was built here really got me interested in entrepreneurship in a different way," Andrews said.

President Biden's Proclamation

President Biden is traveling to Tulsa today to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

He issued a proclamation yesterday, declaring a "Day of Remembrance: 100 Years After The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre."

The proclamation calls on Americans to commemorate the loss of life by working to root out systemic racism from the country’s laws and policies.

The proclamation said, in part:

"The Federal Government must reckon with and acknowledge the role that it has played in stripping wealth and opportunity from Black communities. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to acknowledging the role Federal policy played in Greenwood and other Black communities and addressing longstanding racial inequities through historic investments in the economic security of children and families, programs to provide capital for small businesses in economically disadvantaged areas, including minority-owned businesses, and ensuring that infrastructure projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access."

Councilwoman Calls For Resolution Of Apology

Tulsa City Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper announced on Sunday that she and three of her fellow city councilors support a resolution during this week's meeting to apologize for the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Speaking at the First Baptist Church in North Tulsa, Hall-Harper said she plans to get support for the resolution called Greenwood Prosperity Legacy Restoration.

"For the first time, the city council will be acknowledging, apologizing and most importantly, committing to making tangible amends for the racially motivated acts of violence perpetrated against Black Tulsans in Greenwood," Hall-Harper said.

Hall-Harper said at a later event put on by the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival that this is just the first step.

"This is not going to happen in one day, one week, one month, one year. But what we are saying is we will resolve to a plan, to an initiative moving forward for atonement and for reparations in the city of Tulsa," Hall-Harper said.

After the massacre that occurred 100 years ago, the city of Tulsa passed zoning laws that kept Black businesses from rebuilding and many insurance claims were also denied in the aftermath of the destruction.

The Tulsa City Council will meet on Wednesday for a vote.

New Book Focuses On Rebuilding Greenwood

Carlos Moreno's new book Victory of Greenwood focuses on the rebuilding of the Greenwood District after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Moreno freelanced for the Oklahoma Eagle newspaper when he learned about the people who lived in Tulsa's Greenwood District from the 1920s and beyond, some of whom were still alive. Instead of writing about Greenwood's destruction, he wanted to tell a different story.

"I learned about all the things that Greenwood was proud of. All the success and all the wonderful businesses and all the wonderful organizations that Greenwood Built," Moreno said.

Greenwood did rebuild after the massacre and thrived until the late 1960s, when four highways were built that eventually split the community in half. Moreno says that Greenwood was targeted under the city's urban renewal plan.

"We need to learn about the structural racism of urban renewal," Moreno said.

Moreno wrote about the rebuilding and some survivors in his book, which is online or at Magic City Books and Fulton Street Books in Tulsa.

Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club Gathers

The National Association of Buffalo Soldiers & Troopers Motorcycle Club had hundreds of its members ride into Oklahoma to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club members from across the nation drove in Tulsa’s Centennial Black Wall Street Heritage Parade on Saturday, dressed head-to-toe in black-and-yellow biker garb.

This includes Rhonda Gafford, a member of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club from Louisiana, who came to Tulsa to help raise awareness of the history of the massacre.

“We just hope that that message is put out on a broader scale, and we just hope that people realize what could have been and what will be going forward,” Gafford said.

The group is one of the world’s largest predominantly Black motorcycle clubs and honors the history of the 9th and 10th Black Cavalry Regiments, known as “Buffalo Soldiers,” that served in the U.S. Army during the post Civil War era.

The club has over 120 chapters, including a Lawton chapter.

Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
Katelyn discovered her love for radio as a student employee at KGOU, graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and now working as a reporter and producer.
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