offering his resignation as Pastor, Dr.
Charles W. and Mrs. Kerr together with Hawley
and Margaret spent many hours in shared family prayer about
leaving for a new pastorate in the North:
Kerr initiated informal
contact with the national Presbyterian Church
organisation at the Witherspoon Building
in Philadelphia to
see what pastorates in Northern cities
might be soon opening.
Mrs. Kerr began packing all their household goods.
Soon the downstairs of the Old Manse was filled with packing
crates. Dr. Kerr felt
that after seeing Hawley and Margaret through their education,
that they might go as missionaries
to some foreign land --
as their original vocation was to be
prayed for a sign from Heaven in guidance as to what God wished
them to do next….
requested sign came in the
unexpected form of a telephone call from some of the friendly Black
Pastors in Greenwood:
They were having their own problems rebuilding their Churches
arsoned by the City of Tulsa to suppress an
entirely fictional 'Negro Insurrection.'
However, the Black
ministers had their own congregations entirely
Greenwood Pastors had discovered Dr. Kerr's problems with the Session of
Church Elders through the informal
grapevine which existed amongst the City's Black maids, laundresses,
butlers, chauffeurs, gardeners, yardmen, porters, janitors, etc., who
worked for oil-wealthy white
Black service workers were in the habit of reporting all the
‘interesting things’ which they overheard to their own Pastors in
particularly matters which were of interest to Black community.
Dr. Kerr often declared that the Black ministers were much
better informed than was
he about events happening around Tulsa….
better times the Greenwood Pastors might ring Dr. Kerr
to inform him that a maid belonging to one of their congregations
had told them that one of his First Church oilman
members had just hit a large new oil well.
Armed with such 'insider information',
Dr. and Mrs. Kerr would pay a social
call upon this oilman requesting a donation
for their new University of Tulsa campus … often leaving with the
'suggestion' that it might be nice to buy their maid a new outfit:
The oilmen never did catch on….
this occasion, the same group of Greenwood Pastors, which had rung him
up on the Tuesday evening of the May 31st Tulsa Race War to request his
intervention at the Courthouse, rang him again at the Old Manse:
Charlie,' the Greenwood
Pastors asked, 'what is this we hear that you are going to be leaving us
Kerr told them about his difficulties with the Session over the issue of
his unauthorised expenditure of church funds to house, feed, cloth, and
care for the Greenwood refugees hiding in the First Presbyterian
addition, Dr. Kerr told the Greenwood Pastors about the furore which his
proposed Petition to Congress for the Redress of Grievances caused by
the Race War had created
amongst the Elders and about the very real threat that his congregation
might be split over the issue of his desire to assist the devastated
Black population of Greenwood.
Greenwood Pastors commiserated that they had heard much the same thing
from members of their own congregations who worked for the Elders and
other leading First Presbyterian Church
members, 'All of our people support us to the hilt, Brother Charlie.
It's too bad that you have so many Confederates and Copperheads
in your own church downtown. You
you could facing down those no-count oil hogs to pay up for
having burn't us out. It
fault they turned you
down flat out of meanness. The Old Devil is going to burn them good in the Next World for what
they did to us … with
all that oil they stole from the Indians.
You can't leave now, Brother Charlie.
That would be letting the Klan, Richard Lloyd Jones and all his
crowd win. You just can't do
that … unless you want to see them win?'
Dr. Kerr told
these Black ministers that
summer of 1921
downtown 'mainline' Churches
for Dr. Charles
of the Ku
Klux Klan and were nightly
Cross in seething racial and religious hatred on the hills
Charlie,' responded the Greenwood Pastors over the telephone, 'we sure
hope you won't abandon us now!
What if you were replaced at the First Presbyterian Church by a copperhead
we wouldn't have a friend in
any of the downtown Tulsa churches!
Except for you, Brother Charlie,
all those other downtown white preachers have joined the Klan and
they are out there every night burning crosses'
Greenwood Pastors pleaded with Dr. Kerr
to stay, 'You built that church up from the ground bottom floor.
Why should you have to give up your own church over to a pack of
no-count Confederates? As
you often told us, your kind of Presbyterians are Northern
Presbyterians, Abraham Lincoln's own church:
Can't you just kick out those no-count Southerners?
They'd be better off in a peckerwoods church with their own kind
of white trash. And
what about that college you brought here from
Muskogee, are you going to abandon
that, too? If you leave,
Richard Lloyd Jones and his friends might take it over.
Without you, it just might become a Klan
you want that? Brother
Greenwood pastors argued, 'Before you leave,
you'd better think hard how Tulsa will be without you ...
with nobody left here to oppose the Klan?
If you pull up stakes in Tulsa, there will be no stopping Richard
Lloyd Jones and his Klan friends from completely taking over this whole
you want that? No
Sir, no Sir, Brother Kerr:
You just can't run out on everything you've built up here over
the last twenty-some years. We
know you ain't no quitter, Brother
aren't afraid of even the biggest oil hogs in this hateful town!'
Kerr explained that given the controversy within his Congregation
created by his actions at the Courthouse in confronting the lynch mob on
the night of May 31st, that it might be best for him to give the
pastorate of his church over to a new man not plagued with such
Dr. Kerr said that originally trained to be a missionary he ought to be
out in the mission fields converting the heathen.
Greenwood Pastors wouldn't accept
this answer: 'Brother Charlie, what if you were replaced by a Klan
Preacher ? That would be on your conscience for
giving your pulpit up to a Klan preacher.
You are the only white preacher in Tulsa who does not belong to the
Klan. If you leave, you will
be turning your pulpit over a Klan Preacher!
Brother Charlie, if you
want to convert the Heathen, there are plenty
of Heathen right here in this very town who need a heap of converting
! You don't need to leave
Tulsa to find Heathen. This
town is chuck full of them:
They are burning crosses every night !
Besides, Brother Charlie, we
don't want to loose our friend !'
sometimes speaks in strange ways, so
W. and Mrs. Kerr prayed over this strange response and received a
Scripture Verse to the effect that when one has started a good work,
one needs to complete it....
was also the feeling amongst the Elders
-- both Northern
-- at the private
meeting of the Session at which Dr. Kerr offered his resignation:
at the First Presbyterian Church, Northern
or Southern, personally
liked Dr. Charles
W. Kerr, and
nobody wanted to loose him. As
in a marriage when a couple has come to the brink of a divorce and
suddenly realise the gulf which lies before them, the Session embarked on
a policy of conciliation:
entire Session privately agreed that Dr. Kerr in his personal capacity as
an American Citizen could petition Congress if he wanted to do so and that
the Session would not interfere in his private activities.
However, the issue of the Session,
the Petition was tabled because of the deep existing North/South
sectional division within the
congregation of Tulsa's First Presbyterian
Kerr's proffered resignation caused the Elders and important members of
the Congregation --
Southerners as well as Northerners
-- to reassess the human
asset which they possessed in the person of Dr. Charles W. Kerr:
He had, indeed, built up the First Church from a tiny clapboard
country church into one of the most influential Congregations in Tulsa.
He had also brought a small failing Presbyterian college into Tulsa
and converted it into the University of Tulsa.
The Elders and congregation realised how
attractive Dr. Kerr would be at the mature but not elderly age of 46
to some large Northern or Eastern congregation.
Northern Elders were adamantly opposed to accepting any Southern Man as a new Pastor
-- they threatened to succeed; and the Southern Elders felt that if
they had to have a 'Damned Yankee'
as Pastor, it might as
well be Dr. Charles W. Kerr....
because the 1911 domed church constructed some ten years before was
getting small (due to Dr. Kerr's active evangelisation),
the Session agreed to go into a significant amount of debt to
construct the new Sanctuary to the exact specifications of Dr. and Mrs. Kerr
... if the Kerrs would
agree to stay as Pastor. Having
done everything humanly possible to secure justice for the aggrieved
Greenwood population, Dr. and Mrs. Kerr accepted this compromise and
agreed to stay in Tulsa.
Dr. Kerr was a busy full-time Pastor, Mrs. Kerr was personally responsible
for the architecture, design
and construction of the new sanctuary:
She designed it to be a 'Presbyterian
cathedral' in a
dignified Calvinist-gothic style as Tulsa's High Kirk ...
which could be added to and embellished by future generations.
The completed church was dedicated in 1925. (Technically, a 'cathedral' is
the seat of a bishop. As
Presbyterians do not have bishops, the
church in a locality is known as the 'High Kirk'.)
Dr. Kerr in
the high pulpit
Kerr was so pleased with her results, that she inveigled the Session to
invite the national General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.
S. to hold their annual meeting in Tulsa in 1928, which she organised from
behind the scenes.
the Harding Administration declined to back Dr. Charles W. Kerr's private
petition for a Congressional investigation of the events of May 31 to June
1, 1921; Dr Kerr's petition to
Congress was tabled and no official investigation
was ever conducted whilst the evidence was still
fresh and witnesses were living.
the issue remains:
Will the Black population of Greenwood still greatly racially
oppressed by the oil-wealthy City of Tulsa obtain the full and complete
compensation which Dr. Kerr sought for them back in 1921 for the wrongful
deaths of well over 300 Greenwood Blacks as well as property damages for
the complete devastation of Greenwood by the City Government to suppress
as city policy a fictional
'Negro Insurrection' ? The
murderous Race War often euphemised as 'The Tulsa Race Riot'.
years ago, the sectionally divided Presiding Elders of Tulsa's First
Presbyterian Church refused to support Dr. Charles W. Kerr's quest to
obtain full compensation for Greenwood's Black population injured at the
hands of the City of Tulsa. As
a result Dr. Kerr was unable to keep his solemn promise to the refugee
Greenwood Blacks taking sanctuary in his church :
he be dead these fifty years, Dr. Kerr's
original ministry to 'the least' of Jesus' brothers in Tulsa's
Greenwood district remains uncompleted….
Kerr quest to secure substantive
justice for the Greenwood Blacks by what embarrassed City Officials prefer
to call 'The Tulsa Race Riot' remains unachieved:
There is no 'statute of limitations'
on the Ten Commandments….
Crest of the Head of the
House of Kerr of Ardgowan