Those discussions — over whether the commission should take money it had raised and use it for reparations, how much money that would be and who would control it — ran aground on Wednesday. According to the commission, Ms. Abrams, a voting rights activist and former candidate for governor in Georgia, withdrew that same day. Mr. Legend followed on Thursday, with neither citing a specific reason. The commission announced the cancellation on Thursday night.
To many who had been involved for years in these efforts, this was not a complete surprise.
“This clash was coming,” said J. Kavin Ross, chairman of the committee overseeing the city’s search for mass graves of massacre victims. “It was just a matter of time.”
In 2017, Kevin Matthews, a Black state senator, founded the centennial commission, which is dedicated to commemorating the event and “telling Greenwood’s story in a major way.” The mostly Black commission is made up of elected officials, philanthropy and education representatives and community members. It has raised $30 million, nearly all of it for a history exhibit center called Greenwood Rising and much of the rest for a cultural center and art projects in Greenwood.
Damario Solomon-Simmons, a lawyer who is representing the survivors in a lawsuit against the city and a range of city and state entities that were involved in the massacre or its aftermath, has argued that a portion of that $30 million, along with revenue from the history center, should be used as direct reparations. The commission, he said in an earlier interview with The New York Times, includes representatives of governmental authorities that were implicated in the massacre, and had raised money “utilizing the narratives of the massacre for a building” while not giving financial support to “actual survivors and descendants.”
The commission, for its part, has argued that a campaign aimed at its efforts at remembrance is misplaced.
“The centennial commission was never about raising money for reparations,” said Hannibal B. Johnson, a Tulsa lawyer who is the commission’s education chair. “The reparations should come from government entities because there is evidence they were complicit. That is their moral obligation.”