Tulsa Race Massacre Commemoration Event Canceled Because Reparations Demand for Survivors Was Too High

Tulsa race massacre survivors Viola Fletcher, left, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, right, listen during a rally marking centennial commemorations of a two-day assault by armed white men on Tulsa’s prosperous Black community of Greenwood, Friday, May 28, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla.
Tulsa race massacre survivors Viola Fletcher, left, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, right, listen during a rally marking centennial commemorations of a two-day assault by armed white men on Tulsa’s prosperous Black community of Greenwood, Friday, May 28, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla.
Photo: Sue Ogrocki (AP)

For Black America, the demand for reparations is always an uphill battle. Even when lawmakers and other elected officials appear to be for reparations, it often seems like they’re only half-in. For example, there’s never any proposed legislation that green lights actual monetary compensation for descendants of slavery; it’s always a commission to examine the possibility of discussing reparations, which always reads as lawmakers doing the bare minimum in order to look like they’re doing much more.

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Monday will represent the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 in Tulsa, Okla. On Friday, it was announced that an event to commemorate the anniversary that was set to take place in Tulsa was canceled because the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission was unable to reach an agreement with state officials regarding the monetary compensation for three Black people who survived the horror of the mass murder by a white mob who burned the affluent Black city to the ground.

From the Associated Press:

Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons told The Associated Press that he submitted a list of requests to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission in order to have the survivors attend the “Remember & Rise” event Monday at ONEOK Field in Tulsa. The commission had enlisted Grammy-award-winning singer and songwriter John Legend to headline the event, and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams was to deliver the keynote address.

“After months of zero communication and under immense pressure that John Legend and Stacey Abrams may no longer participate if the survivors were not centered, a meeting was scheduled for Saturday,” Solomon-Simmons said in a text message to the AP. “Immediately following that call, our legal team submitted a list of seven requests to ensure the survivors’ participation with the commission’s scheduled events.”

“The agreement was to have answers on each of the requests by (Tuesday). That didn’t happen.”

Solomon-Simmons is representing the survivors and their descendants in a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa and other defendants seeking reparations for the destruction of the city’s once thriving Black district.

State Sen. Kevin Matthews, the chairman of the commission, said after meeting with Solomon-Simmons and other representatives of the survivors, the commission agreed to provide $100,000 to each of the three survivors, along with $2 million in seed money for a reparations fund.

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The representatives for the survivors and descendants of one of the most vicious attacks on the Black community in the last 100 years said that $100,000 isn’t enough—because it isn’t. But Matthews said that the amount of money Solomon-Simmons demanded was far too much.

“We raised the money and we were excited the survivors were going to accept these gifts,” Matthews said Friday. “Unfortunately, on Sunday they reached out and increased the amount of the $100,000-per-survivor gifts to $1 million, and instead of $2 million, they asked for $50 million—$50 million—in seed money. We could not respond to those demands.

“To be clear, I absolutely want the survivors, the descendants and others that were affected to be financially and emotionally supported,” he continued. “However, this is not the way.”

See, it’s that last line that really gets me—“This is not the way.”

It’s one thing if $50 million is simply unaffordable—if you ain’t got it, just say you ain’t got it—but when Matthews positions himself as the arbiter of what “the way” is, he loses me. (Matthews is Black, but he’s not a survivor of the massacre.)

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Solomon-Simmons said “the $50 million figure was never a non-negotiable demand,” AP reports, which is why it’s just odd that the whole thing got scrapped. You mean to tell me no one could find any middle ground between $2 million and $50 million?

Of course, on one hand, it’s a shame that an agreement couldn’t be reached and the event was canceled. On the other hand, commemorating the race riot was the easy part; reparations for the survivors was the important part, and that’s where America always seems to fall short.

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Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t the same as making amends, and the survivors of this horrific time in America’s relatively recent history deserve more than the bare minimum.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

DISCUSSION

pinguinophd
Doctor Pinguino

I mean, it’s Oklahoma...

why would we expect them to do the right thing?