A PRAYER wall inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem has been created to commemorate one of the worst incidents of racially motivated violence in American history.
The Tulsa race massacre took place over two days, from 31 May to 1 June 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked the black neighbourhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as the “Black Wall Street”, owing to its affluence. At least 300 African Americans were killed and homes and businesses were razed to the ground.
The mob attack came after a white woman accused a black man of assault, a charge that was never proven. No one was prosecuted for the violence. Black church leaders and residents are still seeking compensation for the trauma and the damage, and have filed a lawsuit.
Joe Biden this week became the first sitting President to commemorate the massacre, which was largely erased from history in the United States: it was not coverec in schools, and was removed from police records.
One of the few structures remaining after the attack was the basement of Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the prayer wall has been created. It was blessed on Monday by faith leaders and civil-rights leaders, including the Baptist minister the Revd Jesse Jackson. The basement became a symbol of the resilience of the community after the massacre, as black Christians continued to meet there and raised money through donations to rebuild the church.
The Bishop of Oklahoma, the Rt Revd Poulson Reed, said that touching the prayer wall “was both heartbreaking and hopeful”.
He continued: “Heartbreaking, because on this tragic anniversary we remember the worst that human beings can do to one another, out of hatred and racism. Hopeful, because this prayer wall stands as a symbol of the commitment of many faith groups in Oklahoma to do the hard work of repairing the breaching among us, with God’s help.”
An appeal by the diocese raised more than $164,000 dollars for the prayer-wall project and the renovation of the kitchen at Vernon, which has a feeding ministry.
Vernon’s current pastor has been leading the call for reparations for the black community, protesting each week at the city hall.
President Biden met three survivors of the massacre, all more than 100 years old, this week, on his visit to Tulsa. He told them: “You are the three known remaining survivors of a story seen in the mirror dimly, but no longer. Now your story will be known in full view.”
In an emotional speech to the people of Tulsa, he challenged directly the way in which the massacre had been described. “My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre. Among the worst in our history. But not the only one, and, for too long, forgotten by our history. As soon as it happened, there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory, our collective memory. . .
“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides.” He received prolonged applause.
The President said that Asian Americans and Jewish Americans were still being subjected to hate crimes in 2021. “Hate’s never defeated. It only hides. It hides. And, given just a little bit of oxygen by its leaders, it comes out from under the rock like it’s happening again, as if it never went away. So, folks, we must not give hate a safe harbour.”