May 28, 2021

Press Release

Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial: Museum of the Bible restores historic giving ledger from only surviving edifice, Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church

WASHINGTON — Museum of the Bible has finished restoring and replicating an 87-year-old giving ledger known as the “Book of Redemption.” Dating from the 1930s and 40s, it tells part of the story of Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the only Black-owned building to survive the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.

One hundred years ago, violent white mobs destroyed Tulsa's Greenwood District, known as “Black Wall Street” for its powerful economic and cultural influence in the early 1900s. From May 31 to June 1, 1921, white mobs, spurred by rumors of a Black man assaulting a white woman, destroyed 35 city blocks, attacking from the ground and from the air, killing and wounding hundreds of Black residents. Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was badly damaged, but portions remained standing.

The church became a safe haven for those trying to rebuild their lives. In the decades that followed, church and community members began contributing money to restore it. Some of their names were recorded in the “Book of Redemption,” which was eventually put away and forgotten. The ledger was decaying when a trustee discovered it and presented it to Rev. Dr. Robert Turner, the church’s pastor.

During Juneteenth celebrations last year, First Lady of Oklahoma Sarah Stitt met with Rev. Dr. Turner to learn about Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and was shown “The Book of Redemption.” She contacted Museum of the Bible to see if the ledger could be preserved.

“The ledger was in poor condition when Rev. Turner presented it to us, but we were excited to take on the project,” said Anthony Schmidt, senior curator at Museum of the Bible. “We could see his passion for his church community and its history. We hope the restored ledger will allow others to learn about Vernon Chapel’s remarkable story.”

For months, a special team from Museum of the Bible worked — free of charge — on restoring the original ledger and also created a facsimile that can be safely handled. On Monday, May 31, Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church will reveal both ledgers to the public. The original ledger will be housed in a glass case, while the facsimile will be available for church members, visitors, researchers and historians to read through.

“At Museum of the Bible, we feel humbled to have been invited to participate in such a momentous project,” said Harry Hargrave, CEO of Museum of the Bible. “Sadly, the Tulsa Race Massacre is an often overlooked event in our nation’s history. As we continue to grapple with relationships among our citizens, I believe we have much to learn from those whose names are recorded in the ledger. If we long for redemption in our own national story, then we ought to look to the story reflected in the pages of the “Book of Redemption.”