News & Politics

Event Commemorating Tulsa Race Massacre Canceled After Survivors Demand $1 Million Each to Appear

Michael Dwyer

An event to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre was suddenly canceled after the three surviving victims demanded $1 million to appear and $50 million donated to a reparations fund.

Singer John Legend was to host the event with the keynote address given by Georgia race activist Stacey Abrams. Other events associated with the commemoration will proceed as scheduled and Joe Biden will be in Tulsa on Tuesday.

Attorneys representing the survivors had originally agreed to a $100,000 appearance fee for each survivor and $2 million in reparations. Then, suddenly, attorneys upped the appearance fee to $1 million and seed money for the reparations commission demand to $50 million.

State Sen. Kevin Matthews, who chairs the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, said,  “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.”

Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons has a different perception of what happened.

“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 told 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.”

According to the Daily Mail, the crux of the problem is that there are two different commissions set up to commemorate the event.

Disagreements among black leaders in Tulsa over the handling of commemoration events and millions of dollars in donations have led to two disparate groups planning separate slates of events marking the massacre’s 100-year anniversary.

In addition to the Centennial Commission, the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival has scheduled a series of events over the next several days, and they will continue as planned.

Solomon-Simmons is associated with the Legacy Festival, along with City Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper and Tiffany Crutcher, the twin sister of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a Tulsa police officer in 2016.

In the middle of this are the survivors: Viola Fletcher, 107; her brother Hughes Van Ellis, 100; and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106. They have been silent during the dispute, allowing their lawyer to do all the talking.

In April, Solomon-Simmons sent a cease-and-desist letter to Armstrong, the commission’s project director, over the use of one of the survivor’s name and likeness in promoting the Greenwood Rising project, a 7,000-square-foot museum being constructed in Greenwood to tell the story of the massacre.

The commission also booted Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt from the panel after he signed a bill that prohibits the teaching of critical race theory in public school, and U.S. Sen. James Lankford also stepped down from the commission in recent weeks.

Lankford’s office cited ‘a drift from the original goals of the commission to a more partisan political agenda’ as the reason for his decision.

“It’s all about money,” Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre, a member of the commission said. Isn’t that usually the case? The commission had been fundraising for two years and had accumulated $30 million. More than $8 million had been earmarked for a museum, which has also become controversial because it will be in a gentrified neighborhood in Tulsa, not in a black neighborhood.

A sad commentary on the politics of race in America.