City Council Passes Resolution Apologizing For Tulsa Race Massacre After Speakers Urge Reparations

Jun 3, 2021

Tulsa Race Massacre victims comb the ruins for their possessions.
Credit Oklahoma Historical Society

Updated June 3, 10:10 a.m. to reflect Councilor Kara Joy McKee's response to Greg Robinson during the meeting.

The Tulsa City Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night acknowledging and apologizing for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

The resolution — introduced by District 1 Councilor and Chair Vanessa Hall-Harper, District 4 Councilor Kara Joy McKee, District 5  Councilor Mykey Arthrell-Knezek and District 7 Councilor Lori Decter Wright — also says the council and the mayor will establish a community-led process by the end of the year to look at various proposals for reconciliation, including those from a state commission 20 years ago that call for reparations. Still, the council made it clear reparations are not part of the resolution.

More than two dozen people at the council meeting to comment on the resolution were overwhelmingly in support of reparations and had the support of the Rev. Jesse Jackson; former Asheville, North Carolina Councilman Keith Young, the architect of that city's reparations plan; and Evanston, Illinois, Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who led the charge in her city approving a first-in-the-nation reparations plan.

Simmons told the city council Evanston's push began with a resolution committing to end structural racism passed in June 2019.

"Later in the year, in November of 2019, we did the next appropriate thing, and I'm hoping the next appropriate thing after this resolution is a commitment to reparations," Simmons said.

Local organizer Tykebrean Cheshier told councilors she was going to "be blunt" with them as she started her remarks.

"We had a massacre, and you guys are apologizing for it without reparations. That is what we need now, and that's all we need. Period," Cheshier said.

Former mayoral candidate and Greater Tulsa Area African-American Affairs Commission Vice-Chair Greg Robinson said people are under the impression the resolution is moving the city toward reparations.

"And so, if we're going to sit up here and play these games with Black people, play these games with the City of Tulsa, play these games with the state of Oklahoma, play these games with America — shame," Robinson said.

Robinson also asked each councilor whether they support reparations. It did not appear any answered at the time he asked — legal counsel advised them against answering because of a lawsuit asking for the city for reparations. McKee nodded when Robinson asked her. He thanked her for that, and many people attending the meeting briefly applauded.

Some councilors chose to respond later. Councilor Lori Decter Wright read from a statement on the resolution.

"And while we all recognize that moving forward with recompence will not right all the wrongs, it is undeniable that if we are sincere in our commitment to genuine reconciliation, reparations are the foundation upon which we must build a united Tulsa," Decter Wright said.

Council Chair Vanessa Hall-Harper also responded to Robinson's question later.

"Let it be very clear I strongly support reparations ... I've been saying it on national news all week. But again, this resolution is not reparations," Hall-Harper said.

The resolution also apologizes for and says the council will seek to address racist policies enforced after the Tulsa Race Massacre. It calls for reports on progress on outcomes twice a year.