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GREENWOOD, Dist. – On the 102nd anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition honors unknown victims with a solemn soil collection ceremony at Standpipe Hill in the Historic Greenwood District. The gathered soil, collected from both Standpipe Hill and Oaklawn Cemetery, honors those whose lives were tragically lost during this dark and painful moment in history.

The exact number of victims who perished in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 remains unknown. However, estimations range from 300 to upwards of 500. The event, which took place over a two-day period from May 31 to June 1, resulted in widespread destruction and loss of life in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as “Black Wall Street.” However, due to the chaotic nature of the massacre, the destruction of records, and a lack of comprehensive investigations, an accurate and final count of the victims has never been determined.

Recent efforts to uncover the full extent of the tragedy continue, including through forensic investigations and testimonies from survivors and their descendants.

At the soil collection ceremony, two remarkable survivors, 109-year-old Viola Fletcher and 108-year-old Mother Lessie Benningfield Randle, graced the event with their presence. They were warmly welcomed by Tiffany Crutcher, Kristi Williams, Greg Robinson, and Kenneth ‘K.Roc’ Brant, who also delivered readings and poetry. 

Honoring Unknown Victims of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
108-year-old Mother Lessie Benningfield Randle and 109-year-old Mother Viola Ford Fletcher participate in soil collection ceremony to honor the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Greg Robinson, a member of the Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition, emphasized the significance of gathering at Standpipe Hill. “It is amazing that we honor those unknown who were lost in the Tulsa Race Massacre. That we do it here on truly sacred ground – that actually represents the greatness of what Black Wall Street was, is and will be into the future,” Robinson shared. He then honored the American World War I veterans who lost their lives. “It is not lost on us that we honor veterans on this day as well,” Robinson added. 

During the ceremony, Kristi Williams, a member of the Tulsa Remembrance Coalition and a descendant of the massacre, delivered a poignant reading. Through her words, she reminded everyone in attendance of the historical significance of the Tulsa Race Massacre and shed light on the countless victims whose identities have been lost to time, emphasizing the need to remember and honor them.

“Less than two dozen victims have been documented by name, but research has estimated that hundreds of Black men, women and children died in the massacre,” Williams sternly explained. 

During the ceremony, the hosts, survivors, and guests actively participated in the solemn task of filling jars with the collected soil. As they worked together, they took turns uttering the names of each known victim, paying their respects. In this powerful moment, Kristi Williams acknowledged that Standpipe Hill not only witnessed the tragic events of the past but also it stands as a powerful symbol of resilience and strength.

Honoring Unknown Victims of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Mother Joyce Smith-Williams pours soil into a jar to honor unknown victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

During Williams’ address, she shared an intriguing detail about the majestic hackberry tree standing tall on Standpipe Hill. She then revealed that this remarkable tree possesses a special ability to grow thick bark over the areas that were once damaged by fire, creating a protective shield against future harm, explaining that its resilient characteristic serves as a metaphor for the community’s ability to heal and endure in the face of adversity.

Williams proceeded to recount the heroic tale of Horace ‘Peg leg’ Taylor, a World War I veteran. She described how Taylor courageously positioned himself atop Standpipe Hill, wielding a gatling gun, and valiantly defended the hill for hours, providing a vital shield for the residents of Greenwood as they sought to escape from the violent White mob.

US Veteran Kenneth ‘K.Roc’ Brant, who works for the Terence Crutcher Foundation, shared a deeply personal reflection on the mental struggle he faced during the Centennial of the Massacre back in 2021. 

He recounted the challenge of honoring both the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the veterans during the centennial commemoration, which coincided with Memorial Day weekend. 

“That weekend weighed heavily on me. [I was] torn as a Black military veteran and a Black man living in Tulsa,” Brant shared. At the ceremony, Brant recited a poem he wrote called “Holding Space” to express the thoughts and feelings he experienced. “This weekend, we remembered that some gave all. Here in Tulsa, we remembered that some took all. How do I hold space for both?” Brant said.

Brant’s individual story sheds light on the emotional and psychological battle he endured during his time in service and while navigating the complexities of what Black soldiers experienced during the Massacre upon their return to Tulsa after WWI.