UCT Authority approves lease on possible memorial site

Saturday, April 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The University Center at Tulsa Authority has approved a 99-year lease on land that could become the site of a memorial to the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.

The site on the Oklahoma State University at Tulsa campus, adjacent to the Vernon AME Church, was heavily damaged by fire during the riot.

``This is a significant step forward that nails down a memorial site,'' said Julius Pegues, chairman of the race riot design committee. ``We are wanting to get something accomplished that will heal Tulsa and minimize these differences between us.''

The UCT Authority, which is the liaison board between the city of Tulsa and OSU-Tulsa, entered into a lease agreement with the Oklahoma Historical Society, which will work with the design committee to develop the proposed memorial site.

The Tulsa Development Authority has to approve the lease next, and is expected to do so, TDA spokesman Tony Lombardi said.

Now that land has been chosen, Pegues said the design committee will focus on a proposal to convert the Vernon AME Church into a riot memorial museum.

``We want to bring along the memorial at the same rate as the museum, but our focus at this time is on the museum,'' Pegues said. ``It is our main thrust because we believe it will have more of an impact on the community. It will preserve the history and serve as an educational tool.''

Budget problems for the city of Tulsa has slowed progress on a $1.3 million proposal to transform the AME church into a museum. Former Mayor Susan Savage recommended using money from the third-penny sales tax and a federal development grant to generate the needed renovation funding.

Pegues said museum supporters are ``pursuing several different angles'' to fund the possible renovation of the church, including a mix of public and private funding.

Most Vernon AME church members are ready to move out of the aging structure, which is often difficult to access during festivals and events held in the historic Greenwood District, Pegues said.

Funding for the proposed race riot memorial includes $750,000 allocated by the state Legislature. But the memorial is expected to cost more than that.

The signing of a lease for a memorial site comes 81 years after the May 31-June 1, 1921, race riot that left at least 38 blacks dead and hundreds of homes and businesses in north Tulsa devastated by fire and looting. Some have put the death toll much higher.