Biden to become first president to participate in remembrances of Tulsa race massacre

Hundreds of people gathered outside a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the deadliest racist massacre in the US – and President Joe Biden is set to honour the victims later today.

The Tulsa race massacre took place between 31 May and 1 June 1921, when white residents in Tulsa’s Greenwood district attacked black residents and burned down businesses, with estimates of death tolls ranging from dozens to 300.

Earlier, civil rights leaders joined local faith leaders offering prayers outside Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was under construction at the time but largely destroyed during the massacre.

Edna Osborne (centre) holds her head down in prayer during the dedication of a prayer wall outside of the historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa. Pic AP
Image:Edna Osborne (centre) holds her head down in prayer outside Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pic AP

Reverend William Barber, a civil rights activist, said he was “humbled even to stand on this holy ground”.

“You can kill the people, but you cannot kill the voice of the blood,” he said.

Although the church was nearly destroyed, worshippers continued to meet in the basement and rebuilt it several years later – becoming a symbol of resilience in Tulsa’s black community.

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Among those who spoke at the outdoor ceremony were Democratic representatives Barbara Lee, Lisa Blunt Rochester and Chris Coons.

“We’re here to remember, to mourn, to rebuild equitably,” Ms Rochester said.

People hold candles at a candlelight vigil in honour of the victims of the Tulsa race massacre. Pic AP
Image:A candlelight vigil was held to remember victims of the massacre. Pic AP

As the ceremony came to an end, participants put their hands on the prayer wall along the side of the sanctuary while soloist Santita Jackson sang Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Monday’s activities were supposed to culminate in a headline event at ONEOK Fields, with a performance from John Legend and a keynote speech from voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

However, the event was cancelled last week after an agreement could not be reached over payments for three survivors of the attack.

Police Sargeant Joel Ward views the Field of Heroes at Centennial Park. The field contains empty boots to give a visual representation of Oklahoma's fallen service members. Pic AP
Image:Police Sargeant Joel Ward views the Field of Heroes at Centennial Park, which contains empty boots to represent Oklahoma’s fallen service members. Pic AP
A memorial wall for Black Wall Street in the Greenwood district, where the 1921 massacre took place. Pic AP
Image:Mr Biden will be the first president to be part of the remembrances of what happened in what used to be known as ‘Black Wall Street’. Pic AP

In a statement tweeted on Sunday, Legend did not specifically address the cancellation of the event 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 runs through truth and accountability.”

A woman points at a picture of devastation from the Tulsa Race Massacre in a prayer room at the First Baptist Tulsa church
Image:Estimates of death tolls from the violence range from dozens to 300. Pic: AP
Reverend John Faison Senior kneels in prayer after preaching at a joint service for the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre at First Baptist Church of North Tulsa on Sunday. Pic AP
Image:Other events included a joint service at the First Baptist Church of North Tulsa led by Reverend John Faison Sr. Pic AP

Meanwhile, other events included a joint service for the massacre at the First Baptist Church of North Tulsa led by Reverend John Faison Sr on Sunday.

On Monday, the Centennial Commission hosted a candlelight vigil to honour the victims of the massacre, and President Biden is scheduled to visit Tulsa on Tuesday.

He will be the first president to be part of the remembrances of what happened in what used to be known as “Black Wall Street”.

Sending love to the people of Tulsa as they commemorate the Massacre of 100 years ago. While we won’t be together tomorrow, I look forward to visiting with you in the near future, and, most importantly, to a true reckoning and reparations for the survivors and their descendants.

— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 30, 2021

Last October, at least 10 bodies were found in an unmarked mass grave during a search for victims of the massacre.

The discovery of 10 coffins was described as significant by the city’s mayor, GT Bynum, who budgeted $100,000 (£71,000) to find victims after previous searches had failed.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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