TULSA, Okla. — The grit and jubilance of Greenwood were on display Sunday as residents who know the history of this moment, along with visitors eager to learn, walked Greenwood Avenue ahead of the centennial of a race massacre that is getting new national attention.
Parishioners of the historic Vernon AME Church, one of the only structures to partly survive the massacre in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood in 1921, trickled out after the morning service into a scene that was more festive than mournful. Across the street, a line of booths sold T-shirts and other memorabilia commemorating the financial and cultural success of a community once known as Black Wall Street. At both ends of the block, local musicians performed and community pillars spoke on two large outdoor stages.
Even though the anniversary is a somber one, many here said they are determined to celebrate the culture and community that Black Tulsans built — while using this moment to demand reparations for all that has been taken from them.
Late Monday evening, a candlelight vigil is scheduled to begin 100 years from the moment a white mob pillaged the prosperous Black neighborhood, murdering hundreds of people and displacing thousands more. The violence stretched into the next day, culminating in the looting of Black homes, with armed white mobs rounding up survivors and placing them in an internment camp.
President Joe Biden will visit Tuesday, the day that officially marks the centennial. While Biden’s visit is not expected to be public, he will tour the Greenwood Cultural Center across the street from Vernon AME Church. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and musician John Legend had been scheduled to headline a “Remember and Rise” event Monday, but it was canceled because of a disagreement between the event’s organizers and representatives of massacre survivors and their descendants over funding for reparations.
A state commission in 2001 found that the damages to Greenwood in 1921 would equal nearly $30 million. However, no reparations have been paid to survivors or their descendants, and no people or entities have been held criminally liable. That has left many here skeptical that anything will change in Tulsa, a city that remains largely segregated.
“The proof is in the pudding,” said Guy Troupe, co-owner of the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge, a coffee shop south of the one remaining block of businesses in historic Greenwood. “What matters is what happens six months, a year, two years from now,” he said, referring to the discussions about equity and reparations.
Like many others here, Troupe sees how little input the descendants of Greenwood have in the future of the land. He is among many asking Tulsa’s leaders to acknowledge the city’s culpability in the massacre and the subsequent decades of redlining and urban renewal that destroyed the strong community and businesses Black residents had rebuilt. As the city redevelops Greenwood’s vacant lots and buildings, Troupe is also among many residents asking that the city take this history into account when deciding who can lease the land it now owns in Greenwood.
Monica Smith, 59, a Black resident, said she had little expectation that the city of Tulsa would commit to make Greenwood prosperous again.
“They need to stand by their word,” she said.
Smith said she came out to Greenwood on Saturday to show her support for Black pride and organizing. “This is amazing,” she said before she joined in a chant of “I love being Black!”