Published 11/07/2020 | Reading Time 2 min 38 sec
TULSA, Okla. — Members of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission gathered today to honor the life of Reuben Everett one of many Black Tulsans murdered during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
There was a complexity of emotion throughout the service; there was brightness and honor but also solemnness and anger. There were moments of hope and moments of grief.
“Families from the Massacre have gone years without a proper burial,” said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Chair of the Tulsa Community Remembrance Project. “Community members can collect soil from the sites of massacres as a personal memorial and remembrance of these crimes.”
Although Everett is buried in Oaklawn Cemetery, this honorary event took place on the very space and place Everett lived and was murdered and the future site of the Greenwood Rising history center.
Christy Williams, Greenwood Community Historian pointed to the ground where she stood.
“This is 610 E. Archer,” she said, “The home of Reuben Everett. This was his home. Oklahoma was the promised land for a lot of Black people, from across the states. And they came here wanting to build; and build their families and businesses and just to be respected as human beings and to live peacefully. This was the home of Reuben Everett.”
Mr. Everett lived there with his wife Janie, along with his widowed mother-in-law, Julia Grant. When the massacre began on May 31, 1921, the mobs’ path into Greenwood likely drew very near to Mr. Everett’s residence on East Archer Street, which may have been among the residences that were set on fire and attacked by white mobs on the first night of the violence. At some point during the massacre, Everett was shot and seriously injured. He was taken to Morningside hospital where he died at 1 a.m. on June 1.
Now unrecognizable as a neighborhood, attendees looked upon the historic Oklahoma Eagle newspaper building and downtown Tulsa. A hundred feet away the foundation and framework of the history center, Greenwood Rising, symbolized part of Black Wall Street’s future. At the same time, the grumble of traffic on I-244 regularly interrupted the service; relentlessly reminding of its physical interruption of Greenwood during the so-called “Urban Removal” of the 1960s and 1970s.
But the complex history of this sacred place began much earlier. During the service, Eli Grayson, Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Advocate for Creek Indians of Mixed Ancestry shared the long, complex, forgotten and unacknowledged history of the Tulsa area; of Black towns and both Creek and Cherokee land allotments.
Throughout the service the soothing sound of African drums were provided by Chief Equnwale Amusan and Caesar Roblebo, representatives of the Tulsa Community Remembrance Project. Chief Amusan also performed African Burial Rites leading up to the formal soil collection.
“May we bring coolness to this earth that we stand on that is heated by the blood of ancient African ancestors and Indigenous ancestors,” said Chief Amusan as he poured libations onto the ground, “May our ancestors be happy and satisfied with this ceremony.”
After the presentation, Commission Members walked toward a table where a large glass jar with Reuben Everett’s name awaited, empty. One by one Commission members picked up a small spade and scooped some earth into his jar which was surrounded by white flowers on a simple black plastic tablecloth. Drumming continued as guests slowly added soil to Everett’s jar until Chief Amusan and Roblebo paused to participate as well.
“Today was a beautiful day to remember our tragic history; to remember where we have been and where we are going,” said Phil Armstrong, project director for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. “Mr. Everett’s life is important, his legacy is important, this history is important. I am honored to have the opportunity to highlight and honor him today.”
In the words of Chief Amusan, “Honor and respect to Reuben Everett. Honor and respect to Reuben Everett. Honor and respect to Reuben Everett.”