The Lingering Smell of Ashes

Rev. Robert Turner, pastor of the Vernon AME Church, spoke briefly at a luncheon I attended that was sponsored by the Oklahoma Baptist Convention and hosted at Tulsa’s First Baptist Church on April 1. The Vernon AME Church is the only structure to partially survive the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. The church basement became a place of shelter and refuge from the fires and destruction of May 31 and June 1. The basement held strong, and still holds strong today. Rev. Turner told of an unusual incident that had just occurred on the previous Friday, March 26. While some workmen were renovating a basement bathroom, they accidentally broke through an historic wall. They were startled and confused by the smell that filled the bathroom. Rev. Turner was called to inspect. The strong odor was the smell of smoke and ashes that still lingers in the soil buried for 100 hundred years. 

There are approximately 70 days until the centennial anniversary becomes the focus of the nation. It was reported that hotel rooms for the week are being reserved quickly. Bus tours and pilgrimages are anticipated. Much has been planned for each week from this weekend forward. Phil Armstrong, project manager for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, spoke of the new museum, Greenwood Rising. On Sunday, May 30, churches are asked to stand in unity with the spirit of reconciliation and renewal. 

Following the luncheon, we were invited to the Tulsa Race Massacre Prayer Room designed by the people at First Baptist Church. The stated purpose of the Prayer Room is to explore the events in 1921 and to “prayerfully oppose the sin of racism in our world, in our churches and in our heart.” The Prayer Room is open Monday – Friday, 8:30 to 5:00, without cost. It is well worth the time. Parking is free in the lot at 5th and Detroit by parking in the spaces marked for “FBC.” 

The lingering smell of racial sin is all around us. The fires of hatred still burn in the hearts of so many. The smoke of prejudice and pride clouds our eyes with tears and pain. We are seeing it played out before us every day. Our only hope is in Jesus, who has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Read 2 Corinthians 5:12-20.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be reconciled.  And let’s experience the love and power of God together again.

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