Centennial Commission Chair: Attorneys Demanded More For Massacre Survivors' Appearance At Event

May 28, 2021

State Sen. Kevin Matthews, who chairs the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, said Friday payments to living survivors and a reparations fund were an issue in the cancellation of the commission's main commemoration event.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

The chair of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission said demands from living survivors’ attorneys played into the cancellation of the "Remember and Rise" event.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, State Sen. Kevin Matthews said the survivors’ legal representation approached the commission about including them in the nationally televised event. Thus far, they have distanced themselves from commission.

Matthews said there was an agreement for the commission to give each survivor $100,000 and to provide $2 million to establish a reparations fund, but attorneys came back demanding $1 million per survivor and $50 million in seed funding. The commission agreed it could not offer that.

"So, to be clear, I absolutely want the survivors, the descendants and others that were affected to be financially and emotionally supported. However, this is not the way, no matter how hard we try," Matthews said.

Matthews also responded to recent criticisms about the commission not being focused on reparations, saying the Greenwood Rising history center and other initiatives are making progress toward that.

"Our work has been centered on truth-telling as a foundation for reparations. We believe our work has brought us a long way toward that goal," Matthews said.

The centennial commission raised $30 million, with $20 million going toward the Greenwood Rising history center. Remaining funds went to the Greenwood Art Project, Pathway to Hope walkway, Greenwood District markers, the Greenwood Cultural Center renovation, educational programming, grants and economic development initiatives.

Representatives for the living survivors did not respond to requests for comment. It’s unclear why a disagreement caused the commission to cancel the "Remember and Rise" event outright, which happened Thursday afternoon. The announcement said it was "due to unexpected circumstances with entertainers and speakers."

Headliners John Legend and Stacey Abrams have not responded to requests for comment about whether they were involved in the situation.