Today is the 102nd anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. If you haven’t heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre, or Black Wall Street, you wouldn’t be alone. It’s a piece of US history that is often left out of the classroom. It has even been reported that newspapers in the local library have had the story clipped out. On the day 102 years ago, a white mob destroyed the prominent Black community of Greenwood, leaving around 8000 people without homes, and upwards of 300 dead. We are surrounded by conversations about what should and should not be taught in our education system, but we cannot deny the ramifications of ignoring history. The more we become aware of the hurt, the less we can deny our responsibility to mend it. But while it is necessary to have the difficult and honest conversations about the horror of those two days, it’s just as important to remember Greenwood for all that it was, all that it meant, and its enduring legacy to this day.
Admittedly, until recently I knew very little about Greenwood, the district in Tulsa known as Black Wall Street. My reason for learning more about it now is because our Youth Group will be traveling to Tulsa at the end of June for a mission trip focused on race and reconciliation, a large portion of which will cover Greenwood and the Tulsa Race Massacre. The Greenwood District in Tulsa was founded in 1906 on 40 acres of land in the city. As Greenwood was growing, it was not uncommon for the community to pool resources or loan money to people who were interested in starting businesses. Greenwood prospered with Black-owned businesses, including the largest Black-owned hotel in the country. As we celebrated Pentecost last week, I’d like to focus on the beginnings of a faith community in Greenwood, Mount Zion Baptist Church.
The church began meeting in 1909, originally gathering in a one room school before renting another space, and then moving to a dance hall in 1914. While meeting in the dance hall, the Mount Zion community began raising funds to build a church next door. Once the funds were raised, construction was completed in 1921, with their first worship service being held on April 4th. By the end of May, the church would be reduced to ashes during the race riots. But the church was determined to rebuild, which they did in the original location in 1952. A historical marker for the church reads, “dedicated as a monument to faithfulness and perseverance.”
As I mentioned, the theme for the youth’s mission trip is race and reconciliation. As their pastor, I think I should be the first person to admit to them that I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know how we get there. But we can honor these histories, learn together, grieve together, and ask the hard questions with our hearts beating in our chests. Maybe my job isn’t to have the answers. But we’ll show up anyway.