OKLAHOMA CITY — The centerpiece of the Tulsa Race Massacre centennial, the “Remember and Rise” observance on Monday, May 31, was abruptly canceled Thursday night with little explanation, but President Biden is still planning on visiting Tuesday, June 1.
“Due to unexpected circumstances with entertainers and speakers, the Centennial Commission is unable to fulfill our high expectations for Monday afternoon’s commemoration event and has determined not to move forward with the event at this time,” the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission said in a statement.
The event was to feature prominent figures including performer John Legend and voting rights activist and former politician Stacey Abrams.
The Commission said in a statement that it hopes to reschedule the event, which sold out in less than 30 minutes, for later in the year, and apologized for “the disappointment and any inconvenience caused to ticket holders."
Up to 6,000 people were expected for the “Remember and Rise” event.
The Commission urged visitors to attend other events beginning Saturday, May 29, to mark the 100th anniversary of the massacre and the looting and burning of Tulsa’s affluent Greenwood District on May 31-June 1, 1921. Historians say between 100 and 300 Greenwood residents may have been killed, and more than 1,200 homes, businesses and other buildings burned in the attack by members of Tulsa’s white community. Historians consider it the worst race massacre in American history.
State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, called the race massacre a “significant, tragic” event for both the state and the country, and said everyone should consider coming to Tulsa over the next few days to learn more about the history and attend one of the many other public events. Nichols is slated to participate in a panel on Sunday at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.
The White House has released few details about Biden’s visit, other than to say the president is expected to meet with race massacre survivors, who range in age from 100 to 107, give remarks commemorating the 100th anniversary, and tour the Greenwood Cultural Center.
“This (visit) really is centered on the folks who were most impacted by the massacre, and I really appreciate the president coming and doing that,” Nichols said.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Kevin Stitt, meanwhile, said earlier this week that the state’s top elected Republican had not been invited to attend any of the centennial events. Those remarks followed a controversy earlier this month with Black Tulsa residents over Stitt’s support of a legislative measure banning the teaching of critical race theory in Oklahoma public schools. Members of a high-profile race massacre centennial commission booted him from their group after Stitt appeared unrepentant.
A Stitt spokeswoman did not comment further.
Nichols, who resigned from the commission because of Stitt’s support of the legislative measure, said he was “a little bit” surprised that the governor, who is from the Tulsa area, hadn’t been invited to any of the events, but said he’d be “really surprised to learn” that the governor had specifically not been asked to attend.
“I would imagine if the governor wanted to attend something, I bet the governor has never had a problem getting into an event the governor wanted to attend,” Nichols said. “I’m going to guess he hasn’t needed a ticket to get in somewhere since 2019.”
Kevin Matthews, a state senator who chairs the centennial commission, referred comment on whether Stitt was invited to Phil Armstrong, director of the 2021 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. Armstrong did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
Matthews said the grand opening of the Greenwood Rising museum later this summer will be an important moment for Greenwood, noting that when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened, nearly five million people went there in the first two years. He was interviewed a few hours before his group announced the “Remember and Rise” event cancellation.
“If 25% of those people come to the state of Oklahoma, that’s a million new visitors that will learn about this tragedy,” he said.
He said the museum includes a “dialogue chamber” at the end in an effort to promote meaningful conversation about change and the issues.
“Today with all the racial division, political division we see across the country, we are not sitting down to solve the problem and talking about and having meaningful dialogue with everyone necessary at the table to resolve these issues rather than continue to perpetuate them in the media and divide us further,” he said. “I want people to come to learn, to support, be educated and to build relationships and move toward reconciliation.”
Centennial events include:
Friday, May 28:
- Dedication of the Pathway to Hope, which connects the Greenwood District to John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. It is set for 5:21 p.m. Attendees should meet at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Interstate 244.
Saturday May 29:
- The Black Wall Street Legacy Festival will host a heritage parade from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The parade starts at Carver Middle School, 624 E. Oklahoma Place, in Tulsa. The group will also host an invite-only luncheon honoring descendants and survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
- The National Black Power Convention, which is demanding reparations for the survivors of the massacre and their descendants, will host a Second Amendment Armed Mass March in the Greenwood District. It is slated to start between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. in the Greenwood District and could have as many as 1,000 participants. The group will then host a town hall forum on police brutality from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Vernon AME Church, 311 N. Greenwood Ave.
Sunday, May 30:
- The Black Wall Street Legacy Festival continues from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., including a homecoming event at the Oklahoma State University Tulsa campus, 700 N. Greenwood Ave. The group will also host an event about the making of the HBO series “Watchmen” at 7:30 p.m. at the same location.
Monday, May 31:
- At 10 a.m., the Vernon AME Church will dedicate a prayer wall.
- A public candlelight vigil is scheduled from 10:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. to commemorate the moment the first shot was fired on May 31, 1921, that sparked the massacre.
Tuesday, June 1:
-President Joe Biden is slated to visit the Greenwood District. The White House hasn’t released many details yet, but says Biden will travel to the area to give remarks commemorating the centennial, meet with survivors and tour the Greenwood Cultural Center.
- State archaeologists are slated to begin exhumation efforts of a mass grave located in Oaklawn Cemetery that is suspected to hold the remains of massacre victims.
- An Economic Empowerment Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to highlight the racial wealth gap and inequality in accessing capital.
Wednesday, June 2:
- The Greenwood Rising History Center will be dedicated at 11:29 a.m., but the grand opening for the public will not be until July 3.