Tulsa Church Ledger Preserves Stories of Faith After …… | News and reports
The book may seem like just a list of names and numbers, but Robert Richard Allen Turner, pastor of the Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, knows it’s more than that.
“It’s a great book of our history that we still have to know today,” Turner said. “It’s a story of faith and of people who had faith in God.”
The city of Tulsa will take a break on June 1 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a racial massacre. In 1921, the whites of Oklahoma killed hundreds of blacks and completely destroyed a thriving black community. When the violence ebbed, Greenwood Avenue, the heart of what was then called America’s Black Wall Street, was rubble. The crowd had destroy four hotels, two newspapers, eight medical offices, seven hairdressing salons, half a dozen real estate agencies and half a dozen churches. One of the black places of worship that was damaged was the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), then located in 307 N. Greenwood.
The only thing left of the AME was the basement, and it had also been badly damaged. But the church decided to rebuild and kept a record of everyone who pledged to help and the money they contributed to the cause.
When Turner looks at this book, he thinks of Biblical genealogies and the Book of Numbers, where God told Moses to write down the names of the people who helped him and to count and record the names of the people who had escaped. bondage in Egypt. and the descendants who crossed the desert to the promised land.
“This is not considered one of the sexiest, most quoted [parts] of the Bible, “said Turner,” but the history of genealogy in the Book of Numbers shows you the history of the people. “
Image: Courtesy of the Museum of the Bible
What the Book of Numbers was to the Israelites, the Book of Redemption is at the congregation of Vernon AME Church.
When Turner took the job at Vernon, the book was old and rotten, however. He stuck it in a Tupperware container in an attempt to protect it from further damage. He could have stayed there without a special visit to the church on June 17, 2020 by Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt. During the tour, Turner showed Stitt the book and told him the story of the people whose names were written on it.
“She was immediately overwhelmed by the story of the faith of people who had just lost their homes, who had just lost their businesses,” said Turner. “Some of them lost their relatives and friends in the 1921 race massacre, yet they returned to church.”
The story stuck with Stitt, and she contacted the Bible Museum to see if they could help Vernon restore the book.
The answer was yes. Anthony Schmidt, senior curator of the Museum of the Bible, said he and staff at Oklahoma City headquarters were instantly captivated by the history of the church and the Book of Redemption.
They met with Stitt and Turner in late July 2020 to discuss the project. In August, they started what would become an eight-month restoration project involving 15 people.
“It was in rough condition,” Schmidt said. “The cover was warped and the leather that was originally on the cover had turned from a rich red to a brownish color, and it was chipping and disintegrating.”
The binding of the book was torn in places and some pages were torn and falling out.
“When we first saw it, we knew it was going to take a little time and a little effort to restore it completely,” Schmidt said.
Restorer Francisco Rodriquez led the project: meticulously disassemble the book, repair the pages, clean the mold and sew it back on.
Turner had expressed his desire to see as much of the original preserved as possible, and Rodriguez did his best to honor that.
“What Francisco was able to do was keep large parts of the original cover, but also place them on a new leather cover close to the original color it would have looked like in the 1930s”, Schmidt explained. “You can see the blanket that has survived to this day, but also how it would have looked back then.”
In addition to restoring the original, the Museum of the Bible made a replica so that people could view and study the book without tampering with the original and without adding additional wear and tear.
“Future generations will be able to look at this book and study it and learn more about the history of this church,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said he was personally touched when he read the gifts listed in the book. Some donations were important for the time: $ 50 or $ 100. But other gifts are smaller: 50 cents or a dollar. For him, these represent the greatest hearts.
“They were individuals who didn’t have a lot of money but they had a lot of faith and they had a lot of love for this community, and they wanted to see it rebuilt and wanted to see it prosper as it had.” , he said mentioned. “It’s just inspiring.”
When Schmidt hears Turner talk about the work the church is doing today, including raising money to feed the hungry during the pandemic, he can’t help but think of the 360 ledger names and the families they represented.
“The hope and perseverance that you see demonstrated in this record has allowed the church to thrive and has enabled it to meet the needs of the community for generations,” he said.
Turner said he couldn’t be happier with the finished product and was grateful to be able to display it in church for the 100th anniversary of the June 1 massacre and for many years to come.