Race Massacre Centennial Commission Cancels Main Commemoration Event, 'Remember + Rise'

May 27, 2021

This story was updated at 5:28 a.m. on Friday, May 28, to add comments from Centennial Commission project director Phil Armstrong.  

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission announced late Thursday it has canceled Monday's "Remember + Rise" commemoration event.

The event was to be nationally televised from ONEOK Field, featuring award-winning musician John Legend and politician, lawyer and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

"Due to unexpected circumstances with entertainers and speakers, the Centennial Commission is unable to fulfill our high expectations for Monday afternoon’s commemoration event and has determined not to move forward with the event at this time," the commission said in a statement.

Commission project director Phil Armstrong said he was deflated by the news.

"We're all disappointed. No one wanted to see John Legend more than myself," Armstrong said.

But Armstrong also said there remains plenty of other commemorative events in the coming days.

"This is not about one event. Especially, it's not about a concert. This is about -- if there's any event that we need to remember it's what happend 100 years ago," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said organizers were aware of threats and security concerns but had been regularly meeting with local and federal law enforcement officials. He said threats were not the reason for the event cancellation.

Armstrong declined to confirm or deny rumors that Abrams and Legend had pulled out because of concerns raised by activists that the millions of dollars raised by the commission were not going directly toward survivors and descendants of the massacre.

"Those comments or whatever your sources are for that, I would just say, hey, you're going to have to talk to them on who's directing those types of comments and ask them," Armstrong said. "I definitely wouldn't want them to speak on my behalf and I'm not going to even pretend to try to speak on their behalf."

Armstrong did defend the commission's engagement with survivors and descendants.

"Any statements to the contrary that we have not had survivors and descendants a part of this is just false and extremely misleading," he said.

"Who wouldn't want them to be there and be centered and honoring them?" Armstrong said. "Again, any comment to the contrary is just false and misleading."

According to the commission, $20 million -- the bulk of the money it's raised -- will go to the opening of the Greenwood Rising History Center; $1.2 million is allocated for the Greenwood Art Project; $1.75 million is allocated for historic markers and a new "Pathway to Hope" in Greenwood; $5.3 million will go toward renovating the Greenwood Cultural Center; and $1.5 million is being spent on commemorative activities, community grants, educational programming and economic development.

The cancellation is a major blow to the weekend's planned events commemorating the massacre centennial, which is bringing thousands of visitors and dignitaries to Tulsa, including President Joe Biden, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren. 

The commission said it hopes to reschedule the event for later in 2021. If it is rescheduled, ticket holders will be notified first.

In its statement Thursday, the commission encouraged people to participate in other commemoration events it is hosting, including the Pathway to Hope dedication on Friday and a candlelight vigil Monday at 10:30 p.m. at Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street.

The commission also encouraged people to participate in commemoration events other organizations are hosting, including the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival's broad schedule of events and the John Hope Franklin Symposium.

The centennial commission sunsets June 30. If "Remember + Rise" is rescheduled, it would be in coordination with Greenwood Rising and other community organizations.