1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission Donates $200K To Vernon AME Church Renovations

Apr 5, 2021

Vernon AME Treasurer Fred Freeman speaks at a news conference announcing the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission's donation to the church's renovations. The Rev. Dr. Robert Turner (left) looks on as commission Project Director Phil Armstrong, Chair Sen. Kevin Matthews and fundraising Co-Chair Glenda Love-Williams hold the check.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission on Saturday donated $200,000 toward renovations at Vernon African Methodist Episcopal church.

Commission Chair Sen. Kevin Matthews said Vernon AME is the only structure on Greenwood that matches the plaque on the sidewalk out front that says what was there before a white mob destroyed the prosperous, Black community.

"Not only did they survive 100 years, but they survived still doing the same work; still doing the same ministry; still providing food, home, shelter and prayer to people in this area," Matthews said.

Commission fund raising Co-Chair Glenda Love-Williams agreed with Matthews’ assessment, describing the church as "resilient."

"They have just continued to work and have been tireless in a small congregation. They never miss a beat, every day. And so, to give them $200,000 is just a [pittance] of what they deserve," Love-Williams said.

Vernon AME is currently in the first phase of $1 million in renovations, which includes restoring stained glass windows and replacing bathrooms. The Rev. Dr. Robert Turner said the commission’s donation will go toward work in phase two, which includes a prayer wall, new roof and improvements compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. He described the improvements as an arduous undertaking.

"It’s akin to if you had a 115-year-old grandmother, trying to get her to look like she did when she was 35, and how much cosmetic work that would be. And so, that’s kind of similar to what we’re trying to do, get this church that was built in 1925, finished in 1928 to look like she did back in her 30s," Turner said. "And so, that’s why it takes a lot, but this really helps out immensely for us in getting that. And it’s very encouraging."

Turner said plumbers working on a bathroom renovation recently stirred up the smell of a fire when they broke through a floor, and he had to tell them there had never been a fire at the church other than during the massacre.