Editor’s Note: Sunday, February 14th, is the Sunday of Racial Reconciliation for the Southern Baptist Convention.
TULSA (BP) – A hundred years after a terrible massacre, Deron Spoo hopes to lay the groundwork for a new narrative.
Tulsa’s senior pastor, First, has investigated the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which killed up to 300 blacks and cremated 35 black-owned blocks within two days. First Baptist was one of the white communities that housed more than 10,000 displaced black residents.
But on the Sundays following the 1921 Tulsa massacre, comments from pastors from the same churches did not indicate the expanded aid.
“There were newspaper articles sharing what these pastors were saying in their pulpits on the following Sundays, and it was not good,” Spoo said. “It was offensive, it was racist, and these are public knowledge.”
His answer: the informative and inspiring Tulsa Race Massacre Prayer Room for church and community.
“First Baptist Tulsa, we were in the same place 100 years ago. We opened a room for the healing of the refugees, the wounded who needed shelter. The church was a refuge, ”said Spoo. “100 years later it became clear to me and some of our leaders why we do not open up any more space for healing and why we do not have a prayer room and do we still pray for the healing of the wounds of racism today? ‘”
The room, which is open February through June 1, accommodates 121 days of intense prayer as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission holds months of events prior to the official centenary commemoration of June 1.
“I think it’s important that our church is part of this project to send a message for the future, but also for today,” said Spoo, “that racism has no place in the heart of the church or in the church everyone.” Followers of jesus. “
LeRon West, the Southern Baptist pastor who heads Tulsa’s predominantly black Tulsa, Gilcrease Hills, believes the prayer room could foster reconciliation in Tulsa, which he describes as still divided.
“Having a place where different people can come in and pray and pray together … that goes a long way, because relationships come when we are close together and begin to see each other,” West said. “And the church has to bring that out. When the church is divided, the world has no chance. “
The Greenwood community has a special meaning for West. His late grandfather bought a restaurant in the community in 1928 when the blacks were rebuilding after the riot, and West worked in the restaurant as a teenager.
The 35-block area of north Tulsa known as Black Wall Street rebounded in the 1950s, later suffered a decline, and is enjoying a renaissance as a business, educational, and cultural hub, according to historian Hannibal Johnson.
“It was extremely separate,” said West. “Tulsa is still divided.”
While Tulsa actively debates racial reconciliation as its centenary approaches, Spoo believes that only God can change the human heart in ways that unite the community.
“We can solve a lot of problems if we communicate with one another, but I think we can solve more problems if we communicate with God,” said Spoo. “So while we’re talking about it, why don’t we include God in the conversation?”
Tulsa, First worked with the Tulsa Historical Society to set up the prayer room, which Spoo humbly describes as museum quality. Sections include historical reports and pictures, newspaper reports, written prayers and prayer points, four prayer stations with audio instructions, and a joint anti-racism statement signed by Spoo and other pastors from the churches in the downtown area.
“I ask people to stop and oppose the spirit and sin of racism in our culture and against the spirit and sin of racism in the church and in our particular church and then against the spirit and sin of racism in our lives pray, “said Spoo said. “The only person who can change the human heart is God. I may not be able to change the culture of Tulsa, but I am certainly responsible for changing my heart and making sure it is right before God and loves other people. “
Spoo has enlisted at least one Church member per day to pray in the room, preferably at 12:21 p.m., after a narrated, self-guided tour lasting 20 to 30 minutes. Community members can also visit the space for free, and community groups are encouraged to take a tour. At the end, participants are encouraged to learn about the survivors of the massacre and make a donation to the Greenwood Rising History Center. Tulsa, First is committed to raising up to $ 5,000 in contributions for a potential gift of $ 10,000. The names of the supporting organizations are kept in the middle on bricks or plaques.
“I just think it’s important for posterity to have First Baptist Tulsa’s name on it to say we’re part of it,” Spoo said. “We can’t change what happened in 1921, but we certainly have a say in what happens in 2021.”
The community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive, Spoo said, although a small minority have condemned the room and also belittled the commemoration.
Spoo worked with Philip Armstrong, Project Manager for the Centennial Commission and Minister for the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Tulsa, a congregation affiliated with the National Baptist Convention USA. Armstrong shared the guided prayer stations in Tulsa, First.
“At the core we are God’s creation. And 100 years later we still have this terrible sin called racism, ”said Armstrong. “And it’s a bit like the screams of blacks and whites, young and old, last summer with George Floyd’s death. ‘Enough is enough.’
“Tulsa is now, because of its history, the place where people say it’s ground zero, ground zero of racial relations, ground zero of racial trauma, and a place where people can perhaps find a way to get on that path to reconciliation to get . ”
Armstrong prepares for the inauguration of the new multi-million dollar Greenwood Rising History Center at the entrance to the historic Greenwood Community on June 2nd. He believes the prayer room is an important point of contact for the Church in the 121 days leading up to dedication, as it can lead many to face historical facts.
“Especially for a largely white community and places and organizations … so this leads to them stepping back and saying, ‘We can no longer tell people that we are not talking about it, it happened in the past. Let’s just move on, ”Armstrong said from across the prayer room. “It makes people pause and face the fact that we may still be dealing with segregation because we’ve been doing this for so many years. We just want to sweep it under the rug. “
According to a historical marker slated to be inaugurated in the Greenwood Ward, the Black Tulsans went to the courthouse to protect a prisoner the White Ward was about to lynch on May 31, 1921. The prisoner, 19-year-old Dick Rowland, had been charged with assaulting a white woman in an elevator, although charges were later dropped.
The marker cited reports from authorities providing firearms and ammunition to the crowd of thousands of white men who fired at black men and forcing them to retreat to Greenwood. The white mob followed suit, using city-appointed MPs to shoot black people and burn homes and businesses. The Oklahoma National Guard arrived and arrested hundreds of black men instead of stopping the violence. No one was ever held accountable for the destruction and death, according to the Marker’s records.
The number of deaths is not certain, but ranges from official reports of 36 to eyewitness accounts of more than 300. All that remains of the original Greenwood called Black Wall Street is under the Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church foundation, which was rebuilt after the reconstruction was the massacre.
“You can’t go beyond the injury,” said Armstrong, “until that injury is fixed … We need people of faith to stand up and say this was wrong, it was horrible … but here we are 100 years later.” Let’s not make the same mistake. Let’s not sit on the sidelines. “
West has also worked with Armstrong and other Tulsa pastors to plan 100th birthday religious events, though he regrets having to commemorate a tragedy.
“I hope that after this commemoration, more relationships between races, religions and politics will be built that are really as important to us as we need,” said West. “In the times when we need each other, what is the race?”