Vernon AME Church (copy)

Vernon A.M.E. Church is pictured in September. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World file

A virtual commemoration and a special service at Vernon A.M.E Church are among the events planned for Sunday to mark the two days 99 years ago when one of the nation’s most thriving African American communities was destroyed in the 1921 Race Massacre.

The virtual commemoration begins at 2 p.m. The event is being organized by the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.

Participants will include Race Massacre Commission Chairman and state Sen. Kevin Matthews; Phil Armstrong, project manager of Greenwood Rising History Center; Mayor G.T. Bynum; U.S. Sen. James Lankford; Police Chief Wendell Franklin; and Brenda Alford, a Race Massacre descendant.

The commemoration will be live-streamed from the Mabel B. Little Heritage House on the Centennial Commission’s Facebook page, @Tulsa2021, and on its website,

The Mabel House is on the grounds of the Greenwood Cultural Center. It is where Eddie Faye Gates recorded interviews with survivors of the massacre and their families.

“They are going to have anywhere from 2 to 2½ minutes to comment on the importance of what we are recognizing and what it means to them personally and to the city and the state,” Armstrong said. “It will be pretty much a launch pad that, hey, from this day forward we are counting down to the last year leading up to the commemoration of the centennial.”

The Race Massacre Commission is also holding a candlelight vigil Sunday night to remember the victims. The event, which is closed to the public, will begin at 10:30 p.m.

The conflict began on the evening of May 31, 1921, when gunshots were fired at the Tulsa County Courthouse. It ended with the destruction of Greenwood the following morning.

Massacre descendants, community partners and local stakeholders will stand at memorial plaques along Greenwood Avenue for a moment of silence while holding a candle or other lighting device.

The city, working with PSO, will turn the lights off at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street. At the same time, a video presentation will be played on the scoreboard of ONEOK Field.

The Rev. Robert Turner of Vernon A.M.E Church, 311 N. Greenwood Ave., said the special 10 a.m. service will pay tribute to those who helped rebuild the church after the sanctuary was destroyed in the massacre.

“We have a ledger from 1935 that has names put in it and the amount of money they paid to help pay off the mortgage of the sanctuary we built on top of the basement after the massacre destroyed our original sanctuary,” Turner said.

Also Sunday, the Terence Crutcher Foundation, ACLU of Oklahoma and other organizations are sponsoring a YouTube Live discussion on reparations at 6 p.m.

The event, called, “Their Blood Cries Out,” can be found on Facebook, YouTube Live and

City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper will be one of the speakers.

“’Their Blood Cries Out’ is being held because it is time to have a serious conversation about local reparations concerning the 1921 Race Massacre that destroyed the black community,” she said. “This forum will ultimately lead to action steps to hold the city and state accountable.”

The Race Massacre was sparked by a report that a black man may have attempted to assault a white woman. The official death count, based on death certificates and National Guard reports, is 37, but authorities said at the time that they couldn’t confirm that all deaths were accounted for.

Some estimate that hundreds of people were killed. Hundreds more were injured, and thousands were left homeless.

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From the archive: Tulsa Race Massacre exhibit at the University of Tulsa

Kevin Canfield



Twitter: @aWorldofKC

Staff Writer

Kevin Canfield has covered local government in Tulsa for nearly two decades. He also has reported on downtown development, zoning and community planning.

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