A cornerstone event of the Tulsa Race Massacre commemoration in Oklahoma was abruptly canceled because lawyers representing survivors and descendants demanded a higher fee for their participation in the event than had been originally agreed upon, a commission official said.
Legal representatives for the three living survivors approached the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission about including them in the “Remember and Rise” occasion in return for $100,000 each and a $2 million seed gift to a reparations coalition fund, state Sen. Kevin Matthews, chairman of the commission, said in a Friday press conference.
The parties agreed to those terms, he said.
At the last minute, the lawyers representing the survivors moved to change the agreement, requesting $1 million for each and $50 million for the fund, said Matthews, who did not take questions.
“We could not respond to those demands,” he said. “I absolutely want the survivors, the descendants and others that were affected to be financially and emotionally supported, however this is not the way, no matter how hard we try.”
Lawyers representing the survivors and descendants did not return requests for comment.
“Remember and Rise” was touted as a headlining occasion featuring the Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend and the influential Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams to mark the 100th anniversary of the destruction of Black Wall Street.
“Due to unexpected circumstances with entertainers and speakers, the Centennial Commission is unable to fulfill our high expectations,” according to the commission, which was sponsoring the gathering. “We have hopes to reschedule later in this 100th commemorative year. We apologize for the disappointment and any inconvenience caused to ticket holders.”
The Monday event was expected to be one of the highlights of this centennial weekend.
“It’s a big loss. It was something that everyone was looking forward to seeing,” said Colorado resident Rafell Williams, 52, who drove 10 hours back to his native Tulsa for the centennial. He said he tried to purchase tickets for the event but they were sold out in 27 minutes. “I mean John Legend is a world-renowned musician, everyone wanted to get a little taste of his music. Stacey Abrams a big hero for the Black community for the things she’s been doing in Georgia.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said he was saddened by the cancellation.
“But the work to honor our neighbors killed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and to build a better city moving forward is bigger than one event on a single night,” he said in a statement. “More than any disappointment over this cancellation, I feel profound gratitude for all the people working so hard to honor the lives lost and the work to be done.”
The commission said other programs including the Friday ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Pathway to Hope at Greenwood and a Monday night candlelight vigil are still scheduled.
The commission will also host a limited preview opening of the Greenwood Rising History Center next week.
May 31 will mark 100 years since a white mob started looting, burning and murdering in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, then known as Black Wall Street, killing up to 300 people and displacing thousands more.