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Tulsa, Okla., remembers victims of race massacre on 100th anniversary

Smoke rises from the Greenwood District on June 1, 1921, after the Tulsa race massacre. File Photo courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress
Smoke rises from the Greenwood District on June 1, 1921, after the Tulsa race massacre. File Photo courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress

May 31 (UPI) -- Residents of Tulsa, Okla., were set to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre on Sunday with a candlelight vigil and church services, remembering the deaths of Black residents in the Greenwood district.

Congregations from several churches gathered for a service at the First Baptist Church North Tulsa to remember the two-day tragedy that began May 31, 1921.

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By some estimates, a white mob killed up to 300 Black residents and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, businesses, churches and schools in the so-called Black Wall Street. Some experts say about 10,000 people were left homeless after the massacre.

Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper spoke at the church service, calling for reparations for those who survived and their descendants.

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"We will be working with everyone in our city, our county, our state and even in this nation to help bring more attention to the tragedy and most importantly to how we will be moving forward to atone for what took place here on sacred ground," she said, according to the Tulsa World.

Hall-Harper and other members of the city council have introduced a resolution calling for the body to apologize for the massacre, which was was sparked by the arrest of a Black teenager accused of assaulting a White teenager.

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A 107-year-old survivor of the massacre, Viola Fletcher, testified before Congress earlier this month, also calling for reparations.

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"I will never forget the violence of the White mob when we left our home," she told a House subcommittee. "I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams."

Also in attendance at Sunday's church service were civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, Human Rights Watch U.S. Program Executive Director Nicole Austin-Hillery, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Terence Crutcher Foundation founder Tiffany Crutcher.

The Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission was also expected to hold a candlelight vigil near John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park around 10:30 p.m. -- the moment the first shots were fired in 1921, according to KOTV-TV in Tulsa.

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President Joe Biden, meanwhile, was expected to travel to Tulsa this week to commemorate the anniversary, though details of his visit have yet to be announced.

He issued a proclamation, calling on Americans to "reflect on the deep roots of racial terror in our nation and recommit to the work of rooting out systemic racism across our country."

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"With this proclamation, I commit to the survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, including Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, the descendants of victims, and to this nation that we will never forget," he said. "We honor the legacy of the Greenwood community, and of Black Wall Street, by reaffirming our commitment to advance racial justice through the whole of our government, and working to root out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, and our hearts."

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