The House of Kerr of Ardgowan

The Grandfather Kerr Clan

Clergy Tartan
























Dr.  Kerrs  remain  in  Tulsa  after  acceptance  of  Session’s  compromise to  build  new  church  to  the  specifications  of  Dr.  and  Mrs.  Kerr:  

After 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:  

 Dr. 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  missionaries.    The Kerr  Family  prayed for a sign from Heaven in guidance as to what God wished them to do next….  

The 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  deliberately arsoned by the City of Tulsa to suppress an entirely fictional 'Negro Insurrection.'    However,  the Black ministers had their own congregations entirely behind  them.  

The Greenwood Pastors had discovered Dr. Kerr's problems with the Session of First  Presbyterian  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 Tulsans:   

These Black service workers were in the habit of reporting all the ‘interesting things’ which they overheard to their own Pastors in  Greenwood  --   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….      

In 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….  

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:  

'Brother Charlie,'  the Greenwood Pastors asked, 'what is this we hear that you are going to be leaving us ?'  

Dr. 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   Church.     

In 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.  

The 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  did  all  you could facing down those no-count oil hogs to pay up for having burn't us out.  It  ain't  your  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?'  

Then  Dr. Kerr  told  these Black ministers  that  he  would  soon  be  leaving  Tulsa  for  a  new  pastorate  up  North  where  they  could  start  out  fresh.   This  was  in  the  late  fall  of  1921  after  the  dramatic  events  of  the  summer  of 1921  in  which  most  of  the  prominent  men  in  Tulsa  and  all  of  the  ministers  of  the  socially  prominent  downtown 'mainline'  Churches     except  for Dr.  Charles  W.  Kerr,   the  Rabbi,  and  the  few   Roman  Priests      had  joined  the  Invisible  Empire  of  the  Knights  of  the Ku  Klux Klan and were  nightly burning  Jesus'  Cross in seething racial and religious hatred on the hills  surrounding  Tulsa.  

'Brother 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 preacher?    Then, 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'  

The 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 college.    Would you want that?    Brother Charlie,  you've  just  got  to  stay!''  

The 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 town:  Do 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  Charlie!    You aren't afraid of even the biggest oil hogs in this hateful town!'  

Dr. 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 controversy.     Besides, Dr. Kerr said that originally trained to be a missionary he ought to be out in the mission fields converting the heathen.

Dr.  Charles  W.  Kerr  In  retirement  as

Chaplain  of  Hillcrest  Hospital

The 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 !'  

God sometimes speaks in strange ways,  so Dr.  Charles  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....     

This was also the feeling amongst the Elders  --  both Northern  and  Southern  --  at the private meeting of the Session at which Dr. Kerr offered his resignation:  

Everybody 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:  

The 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,  itself,  supporting the Petition was tabled because of the deep existing North/South sectional division within  the congregation of Tulsa's First  Presbyterian  Church.  

Dr. 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.  

The 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.... 

Accordingly, 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.  

Because 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 principal  Presbyterian  church in a locality is known as the 'High Kirk'.)  

Interior  of  High  Kirk  of  Tulsa's  First  Presbyterian  Church

designed  by  Mrs.  Anna  Elizabeth  Coe  Kerr:

Choir  practice  with  Dr. Kerr   in  the high  pulpit  

Mrs. 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.  

Because 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.  

Today, 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'.  

1928  General  Assembly  in  the  High  Kirk    of

Tulsa's  First  Presbyterian  Church

organised  by  Mrs.  Kerr  

Eighty 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 : 

Though he be dead these fifty years, Dr. Kerr's  original ministry to 'the least' of Jesus' brothers in Tulsa's  Greenwood district remains uncompleted….  

Dr. 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