Race riot panel looks for special session funding reprieve

Monday, June 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The state panel digging into the 1921 Tulsa race riot will consider raising private funds if the Legislature doesn't come through this week with money to finish the job, one member said Monday.

The Tulsa Race Riot Commission has not received funding past the original $50,000 allocation made upon its creation in 1997, said Pete Churchwell, who is expected to be named the panel's new chairman when it meets Thursday.

Several consultants aiding the group's assigned task to study and report on the riot have gone unpaid and uncompensated for airfare and other expenses, Churchwell said.

"If we don't get any state funds, we have to undertake raising money from private donations," he said.

The state Legislature is scheduled to consider funding the panel when it convenes Wednesday in special session on a variety of issues. The riot commission has until Feb. 28, 2001, to submit a final report to the Legislature on its investigation into the 1921 rampage that destroyed Tulsa's black business district.

The exact death toll is among many disputed facts the panel was assigned to help resolve. Historians believe as many as 300 died in the white mob's attack.

The Legislature extended the panel last session, but Gov. Frank Keating vetoed a section of a bill that earmarked the first $250,000 from any appropriations to the race riot commission.

Keating said the section abused the separation of powers between executive and legislative branches. But he placed funding for the commission on the special session agenda.

Churchwell estimates it will cost about $100,000 to pay what is owed to consultants, finish the 250 to 300-page report and print it. The rest of the appropriation was targeted toward preliminary work on the creation of a race riot memorial.

If the Legislature hasn't appropriated funds by Thursday's meeting, "our first agenda item is going to be what are we going to do to get some money," he said. A fund-raising drive likely would be the next step.

The team of historians and scientists working with the commission include author and historian Scott Ellsworth, renowned forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow and John Hope Franklin, the head of President Clinton's national advisory board on race. None of the consultants who are owed money are pressuring the commission or threatening to halt work, Churchwell said.

"But they've gotten to the point that if they have to go into their pockets again, they want some assurance of compensation," he said.

"It's ridiculous that we're sitting here today and don't have any money," Churchwell said. "We really haven't had money for two years."

The panel has finished its research, with the exception of an excavation in a Tulsa cemetery believed to hold a mass grave. The commission will consider whether to undertake the excavation at a meeting later this summer, he said.