TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Hundreds gathered Monday for an interfaith service dedicating a prayer wall outside historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood on the centennial of the first day of one of the deadliest racist massacres in the nation.
National civil rights leaders, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and William Barber, joined multiple local faith leaders offering prayers and remarks outside the church that was under construction and largely destroyed when a white mob descended on the prosperous Black neighborhood in 1921, burning, killing, looting and leveling a 35-square-block area. Estimates of the death toll range from dozens to 300.
Barber, a civil and economic 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.”
Although the church was nearly destroyed in the massacre, parishioners continued to meet in the basement, and it was rebuilt several years later, becoming a symbol of the resilience of Tulsa’s Black community. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
As the ceremony came to an end, participants put their hands on the prayer wall along the side of the sanctuary while a soloist sung “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Traffic hummed on a nearby interstate that cuts through the Greenwood District, which was rebuilt after the massacre but slowly deteriorated 50 years later after homes were taken by eminent domain as part of urban renewal in the 1970s.