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Tulsa churches honor ‘sacred land’ 100 years after massacre

Greenwood is “holy land,” said Reverend John Faison of Nashville, Tennessee, who preached at the service and is the Bishop’s assistant in outreach for the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

He said the centenary both honors the victims of the massacre and “celebrates the resilience and resurgence of an incredible people of God.”

Similar commemorations took place at many places of worship in Tulsa and Oklahoma on Sunday, a day before the official centennial dates. Other civic activities are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, including a candlelight vigil and a visit from President Joe Biden.

The commission that organized the centenary designated Sunday as the day of faith for unity and provided a suggested worship guide that each congregation could adapt, including scriptures, prayers, and the song of “Amazing Grace.” “.

Particularly in historically black churches, speakers insisted on a call for financial reparations – both for the few hundred-year-old survivors of the massacre and for the larger and economically struggling region of North Tulsa, where the black population of the city ​​is largely concentrated.

“The main problem is that our nation is still trying to be reconciled without doing justice,” Faison said. “Until repentance and reparation are seen as inseparable, any attempt at reconciliation will fail miserably.”

The Reverend Robert Turner, pastor of the neighboring African Methodist Episcopal Church in Vernon, which also has its roots before the massacre, echoed this sentiment in an interview before his own church service.

“This is not a tragedy that remains in 1921. It is a tragedy that lives on every day and lacks justice,” said Turner, who protests every week outside Tulsa town hall, calling for both reparations and a posthumous criminal investigation into the perpetrators of the massacre.

Some churches on Sunday recognized 13 still active congregations operating in Greenwood in 1921, many of which had to rebuild their destroyed shrines. The lists of the 13, under the title “Faith Still Standing”, are distributed on posters and other merchandise.

“We never want this to happen again anywhere,” said Reverend Donna Jackson, organizer of the recognition.

Some historically white churches have also celebrated the centenary.

Pastor Deron Spoo of the First Baptist Church in Tulsa, a Southern Baptist church located less than two miles from the similarly-named church in North Tulsa, told his congregation that the massacre had been “a scar” on the road. city.

The church has a prayer room with an exhibition on the massacre, accompanied by prayers against racism. It includes quotes from white pastors in 1921 who blamed the black community rather than the white assailants for the devastation and said racial inequality was “divinely ordered.”

Spoo told worshipers on Sunday: “While we don’t know what the pastor of First Baptist Tulsa said 100 years ago, I want to be very clear: Racism has no place in a person’s life. disciple of Jesus. “

The Southern Baptist Church of Tulsa, a Southern Baptist congregation located in a predominantly white suburb of Tulsa, also acknowledged the massacre.

Pastor Eric Costanzo grew up in Tulsa but only learned of the massacre after attending the out-of-state seminary. When he later saw an exhibit about the massacre at the Greenwood Cultural Center, he recognized its enormity. He then became involved in the planning for the centennial, organizing presentations to the church about the massacre and visits by church members to Greenwood.

In an interview, he said he hoped that the “bridge that we have created between our communities” will remain active after the centenary to tackle “many difficult matters facing our city and our culture”.

Reverend Zenobia Mayo, a retired educator and ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is also working to continue these conversations after the centenary. She said her family never used to talk about the massacre, even though her great-great-uncle, renowned surgeon AC Jackson, was among her most significant victims.

The elders of the family sought to protect their children from the trauma of racist violence, she said. “They thought not talking about it was the way to deal with the problem.”

But now Mayo is hoping to hold talks about racism at her home with mixed groups of white and black guests.

“If it’s going to be, start with me,” she said.

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