Hundreds gather at historic US prayer wall

·2-min read

Hundreds of people have gathered at a prayer wall outside a historic US church on the centennial of the first day of one of nation's deadliest race massacres.

National civil rights leaders including reverends Jesse Jackson and William Barber joined multiple local faith leaders outside Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa on Sunday.

The church was under construction and largely destroyed when a white mob descended on the prosperous black Greenwood neighbourhood in 1921, burning, killing, looting and leveling a 35-square-block area.

Estimates of the death toll range from dozens to 300.

Barber, a civil and economic rights activist, said he was "humbled even to stand on this holy ground".

"You can kill the people but you cannot kill the voice of the blood."

Although the church was nearly destroyed in the massacre, parishioners continued to meet in the basement, and it was rebuilt several years later, becoming a symbol of the resilience of Tulsa's black community.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.

As the ceremony came to an end, participants put their hands on the prayer wall along the side of the sanctuary while soloist Santita Jackson sang Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Traffic hummed on a nearby interstate that cuts through Greenwood, which was rebuilt after the massacre but slowly deteriorated after homes were taken as part of urban renewal in the 1970s.

Among those who spoke at the outdoor ceremony were members of Congress Barbara Lee and Lisa Brunt Rochester and Senator Chris Coons.

Rochester connected the efforts toward reparations in Tulsa with a wider effort: pending House legislation that would create a commission to study and propose reparations for African Americans.

"We're here to remember, to mourn, to rebuild equitably," she said.

Through the course of a drizzly afternoon, visitors wearing rain gear walked along Greenwood Avenue, photographing historic sites and markers.

Many took time to read plaques on the footpath, naming numerous black-owned buildings and businesses destroyed in 1921 and indicating whether they had ever been rebuilt.

Monday's commemoration activities were supposed to culminate with a headline event at nearby ONEOK Field featuring Grammy-award-winning singer songwriter John Legend and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

But it was scrapped after a disagreement over monetary payments to three survivors of the deadly attack, a situation highlighting broader debates over reparations for racial injustice.