Standing in solidarity
Sunrise vigil asks participants to put themselves in the place of Tulsa Race Massacre victims
On June 1, 2021, OSU-Tulsa faculty, staff, students and members of the community gathered in the rain-soaked pre-dawn darkness to commemorate a defining moment of the Tulsa Race Massacre. As the group came together at the Ellis Walker Woods Memorial, horns from passing freight trains echoed in the distance. Exactly 100 years prior, at 5:08 a.m., eyewitnesses report hearing a similar whistle blow, heralding the beginning of a focused assault on the Greenwood District.
"The day before had been marked with violence and bloodshed, starting with a confrontation between armed white men wanting to lynch Dick Rowland and a group of Black men determined to protect him," said Quraysh Ali Lansana, director of the Center for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation at OSU-Tulsa, who led the vigil. "Sporadic confrontations and gunfire punctuated the night. Several buildings had already been put to the torch."
Lansana asked attendees to visualize what Greenwood looked like that morning. As he described a traumatized community holding its breath in anticipation of what would happen next, those gathered lit candles and stood in silence. The stillness was broken at exactly 5:08 a.m. by Nekki Reagan-Neeley, assistant vice president for community engagement and student services, reading a survivor account describing the attack on Greenwood.
"Those events happened here, where we stand," Lansana reminded those gathered.
OSU-Tulsa is located on a portion of the land where more than 35 blocks of homes, shops, churches, schools and businesses were destroyed over May 31 and June 1, 1921.
"We must commit to educating about the truth of the Tulsa Race Massacre," said Lansana. "We must share the stories of those who witnessed and lived through the horrors. And we must honor those whose names we will never know."
The event concluded with community engagement specialist Alnetta Morris reading a narrative poem written by Tulsa Star newspaper founder A.J. Smitherman describing the events of the Tulsa Race Massacre and an a cappella performance of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by Caesar Latimer, a descendant of Tulsa Race Massacre survivors.
As they departed, participants left their candles in front of the Remembrance banner facing Greenwood Avenue in silent tribute. They took with them Lansana's parting words:
"This land is sacred. Treat it as such."
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