Vernon AME Church a Greenwood Survivor

GTR Media Group photo
HISTORICAL STRUCTURE: Construction of the Vernon AME Church at 311 N. Greenwood Ave. began in 1918 and survived the 1921 Race Massacre. It was completed in 1928. The church congregation continues to be strong today. The reverend of the church is Pastor Dr. Robert Turner.

There are few surviving buildings of the tragic 1921 Race Massacre that covered 35 blocks in north Tulsa. The most iconic survivor is the Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church at 311 N. Greenwood Ave.
Construction of the Vernon AME Church began shortly after the end of World War I in 1918. The building was in use by its congregation but not yet complete when the fire of the massacre burned everything around it and part of the church itself. With pride and tenacity, the membership continued to worship in the church basement and slowly repaired the damage. Construction was completed in 1928. Although the original architect is unknown, the building was named after W.T. Vernon, registrar of the U.S. Treasury under presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft.
During the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s, Vernon AME served as a symbol of racial equality in Tulsa. It became a staging ground for a massive freedom march through downtown while Congress was debating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The planned location of the nearby interstate expressway gave the congregation a chance to sell the property which was emphatically declined. In 2001, the City of Tulsa made an offer to buy the building to convert it into a memorial to the 1921 Massacre. This offer was rejected. In 2018 Vernon AME was listed on the National Register. Its robust congregation continues to worship and find enjoyment in the building.
In addition to its important and colorful history, what makes this church significant is the architecture. The building is a massive two-story rectangular block with a full basement located just below the surrounding ground. The west (front) elevation includes two, three story towers which terminate in steeply hipped roofs, almost dome shaped in appearance. The towers occur at the northwest and southwest corners balancing a modestly projecting main element.
Cast stone Corinthian columns frame a pair of glass storefront doors. These terminate at an architrave with intaglio letters spelling Vernon AME Church. Above this signage is a low balustrade in front of four stained glass windows. Immediately above these are four-pointed arch stained-glass windows which terminate at a low pediment.
At either side of these entrance elements is a two-story brick pilaster capped with a Corinthian Capital which supports a low-pitched pediment with dentil molding on its rakes. The dentil molding occurs at the roof line of the south and west elevations as well. These elevations are each punctuated with three tall arched stained-glass windows. The dark red brick building exterior is accented with white window frame moldings and various pieces of trim.
Upon entering the church from its front doors, one can descend to the basement, which is a finished space. From the foyer (narthex), visitors also can progress into the main worship space which has a choir loft behind a central pulpit at the east end. On the west end is a generous balcony for overflow seating.
Both the exterior and the interior of the Vernon AME Church have been meticulously maintained. Fundraising is in progress as with most historic buildings. This current campaign is for stained glass window repairs and other maintenance concerns.

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