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Tensions Shake Commemoration of Tulsa Race Massacre

Stadium event with John Legend and Stacey Abrams is off
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2021 10:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – The 100th anniversary commemoration of the Tulsa Race Massacre has become entangled in a series of contentious developments, canceling some of the centerpiece events. The city is marking the horrific event over the weekend, a century after a white mob killed as many as 300 people, destroying the homes of 10,000 people and one of the nation's most thriving Black areas. Those developments include:

  • The cancellation of the "Remember and Rise" concert scheduled for Monday. The program at ONEOK Field was to be televised and include a performance by John Legend and a keynote speech by Stacey Abrams. The centennial commission gave the reason as "unexpected circumstances with entertainers and speakers," the Washington Post reports. Activists and lawyers for massacre survivors said the big names dropped out after agreements on compensation for the victims and money for a reparations fund fell apart. "This is supposed to be about the survivors and the descendants," a pastor said, per the New York Times. The commission's chairman said, "It is disappointing the national folks who were going to come to ONEOK Field are not coming, but that is not as important as the candlelight vigil, where we will honor those who have fallen and gone before." The vigil is still on, for 10:30pm CDT Monday, the time when the first shot of the massacre was fired.

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  • The removal of Oklahoma's governor from the commission, after he signed into law legislation barring the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. Any lessons about racial issues that would make any students uncomfortable would not be permitted. A spokeswoman for Gov. Kevin Stitt said his role on the commission was only ceremonial.
  • The resignation from the commission of one of the state's US senators. A spokesman for Sen. James Lankford said he thought the commission was shifting from its original goals to "a more partisan political agenda."
  • A warning from Homeland Security Law about for the possibility of violence during the events, per the AP. The federal alert referred to the "volatile threat environment"; law enforcement is wary of white nationalists and the Black Panthers, who marched through the city.
  • A battle in the state legislature over whether the word "reparations" should be in a resolution about the massacre, with Republicans opposed to using the term. The Oklahoma House kept it in, but the Senate then took it out.
Documentaries reexamining the two-day attack are premiering on the History Channel, National Geographic, CNN, and PBS, per the AP. Stanley Nelson, who co-directed "Tulsa Burning: 1921 Race Massacre," which debuts Sunday, said: "I'm sure that every film will be totally different. I think there’s a special timing here." (Read more Tulsa stories.)

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