Tulsa diocese mourns 100th anniversary of racial massacre

Tulsa massacre 100th Rubble of houses in Greenwood, Tulsa, after the 1921 race massacre. | The Everett Collection/Shutterstock

The Bishop of Tulsa commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa racial massacre last week, in an ecumenical vespers service at Holy Family Cathedral.

“We need to know that we can be different from one another and united in love. That though we are different from one another, our dignity is equal because we are equally loved by the God who created us,” Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa said in his opening remarks at the service.

Bishop Konderla appeared alongside Rev. Dr. Robert Turner of the Historic Vernon Chapel A.M.E. Church in Tulsa, at the May 30 Vespers service.

“It is hard to believe that 100 years ago people could think and act in such a way. It is unthinkable,” Bishop Konderla said in a May 27 press release, preceding the service. 

“Still, it happened,” he wrote. “And it is important that we take the time to pause and reflect on how such an unspeakable horror could take place so that we can avoid any such evil in our own day.”

The 1921 Tulsa racial massacre, which occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921, began with an accusation leveled against a young black man, Dick Rowland. He had supposedly stumbled in an elevator and stepped on the foot of the white woman operator, fleeing the elevator. He was accused of sexual assault. 

Rowland was arrested the next day by Tulsa police and the accusation was investigated. The Tulsa Tribune reported on the ensuing conflict between Black and white groups at the courthouse, where a white mob seeking to lynch Rowland arrived and swelled in size. Black citizens showed up in Rowland’s defense.

After gunshots were fired, the African-Americans retreated to the Greenwood District, a thriving community of Black-owned businesses and residences known as the “Black Wall Street.” White rioters followed and burned and destroyed many of Greenwood’s homes and businesses. 

After a day of destruction, more than 800 people were treated for injuries and as many as 300 people may have died, according to reports. Almost 10,000 of the area’s 11,000 residents were homeless following the massacre, according to the diocese. 

Two days later, knights of the Klu Klux Klan met on a hillside to celebrate the carnage by burning a large cross, a trademark of the Klan. 

At the May 30 ecumenical vespers, Bishop Konderla invited parishioner Jim Goodwin to the pulpit where he spoke about the role Holy Family Cathedral played during the massacre.

Goodwin spoke of the Klan's campaign of mass destruction in the city and of how the church served as a place of refuge for victims.

“Holy Family’s nuns of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and its Knights of Columbus council provided food, clothing and shelter to five hundred victims of the massacre,” Goodwin said, “During the week of the massacre at the Church, 477 meals were served, 25 babies were bathed and given clean clothes.” 

Turner spoke about the history of his church and its role as being a sanctuary for those who hid during the massacre. The church was destroyed, but of the wall that has survived, many come to see it as a piece of history. Turner highlighted the wall as a place for children to get “enriched, equipped, and empowered, to go out into this world and be change agents for truth for healing and even for justice.”

Turner said he was thankful that Konderla would be offering a prayer at the dedication of the public prayer wall for racial healing. 

Konderla called the prayer service “a time to acknowledge a grave evil that took place and mourn the lives lost and destroyed as well as a time to celebrate the courage of those people who served as shining lights in that dark time to help the victims.”

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