By Aja Hannah, Images (c) Kayla Lupean
Karamu House's "Still We Rise" benefit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Inspired by the words of Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise," the historic theatre signals to the community that it will continue its long record of success and excellence in the face of whatever obstacles stand in its way, whether it be the pandemic or the continued fight against systemic racism.
As such, Karamu House chose to hold the benefit right after the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, an event where Black Wall Street was destroyed by White mobs, resulting in the deaths of over 300 people. This event was buried in American history and the families went without justice. Black people still rise despite the circumstances presented by racism experienced at the hands of White people.
General admission for the virtual benefit is free, though registration is required and a suggested contribution of $50 is encouraged. A VIP Virtual Experience is available for $150, which includes home delivery of a Southern-inspired charcuterie board with wine pairing.
Those that purchase the VIP Live Experience ($500 for 2) will enjoy a preview of "Greenwood: An American Dream Destroyed" by Celeste Bedford Walker, original musical performances from Karamu House artists and an after-party with food, beverages, music and dancing.
Black Wall Street was the nickname for the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the wealthiest Back neighborhoods in the U.S. On May 30, 1921, two teenagers were working the Memorial Day holiday and rode the elevator together. As the elevator opened the girl screamed, and the boy rushed out. The girl was White. The boy was Black.
History of Black Wall Street
A White clerk believed the boy assaulted the girl, despite no such statement to that effect from the girl herself. There were rumors the pair had been a couple. The boy was held in jail while police investigated, but White residents wanted the young man lynched. Police would not turn him over. The following day, mobs of White residents looted and burned down 35 city blocks, and injured more than 800 people.
None of the perpetrators of the Black Wall Street Massacre -- sometimes called the Tulsa Race Riots or Greenwood Massacre -- were brought to justice. The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics stated that only 36 people died and the event was largely buried in American history, like so many other crimes against people of color. True estimates put the death toll as high as 300. Oklahoma schools only just began teaching students about the massacre in 2020.
Karamu House, the oldest Black theatre in the country and listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, is enjoying a period of revitalizaton and renovation. Like many in the arts industry, business ground to a halt during the pandemic, leading to lost revenue and a delay to the grand opening of its new theatre wing and streetscape.
About Karamu House
Renovation plans include enhancing the theatre's ADA accessibility and turning the annex into an arts education and training center designed to address systemic racism and social justice. As the second civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements persevere in the U.S., Karamu House has pushed to do more productions and education centered on social justice. The grand opening is now set for summer 2022.
Karamu House is named after the Swahili word for "a place of joyful gathering," the institute has hosted renowned artists like Langston Hughes, Bill Cobbs, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Imani Hakim. It is a trusted and cherished source of Black celebration, history, and education.