The book might look like it’s just a list of names and numbers, but Robert Richard Allen Turner, pastor of Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, knows it’s more than that.
“It’s a ledger of our history that we still need to know today,” Turner said. “It’s a story of faith and folks who had faith in God.”
The city of Tulsa will pause on June 1 to remember the 100th anniversary of a racial massacre. In 1921, white Oklahomans killed hundreds of Black people and completely destroyed a prosperous Black community. When the violence ebbed, Greenwood Avenue—the heart of what was then called America’s Black Wall Street—was rubble. The mob had destroyed four hotels, two newspapers, eight doctor’s offices, seven barbershops, half a dozen real estate agencies, and half a dozen churches. One of the Black houses of worship that was damaged was the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, located then at 307 N. Greenwood.
The only thing left of the AME was the basement, and it too had been badly damaged. But the church decided to rebuild, and it kept a ledger of all the people who pledged to help and the money they contributed to the cause.
When Turner looks at that book, he thinks of the biblical genealogies and the Book of Numbers, where God told Moses to write down the names of the people who assisted him and to count and record the names of the people who had escaped bondage in Egypt and the descendants who went through the wilderness to the Promised Land.
“It’s not considered to be one of the sexier, more quoted [parts] of the Bible,” Turner said, “but the history of the genealogy in the Book of Numbers shows you the history of the people.”
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