Social Justice Sunday at Durham's St. Joseph AME Church was created by Pastor Jay Augustine when he arrived as the church's senior pastor in 2019. It's an annual series of events that begins the week of the anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington.
"We're a beacon of light in the community, by sharing knowledge, by empowering people by preaching the gospel of liberation," he said on the day he welcomed a guest speaker to inspire his congregation.
That speaker, Reverend Dr. Robert Turner, is the senior pastor of the Historic Vernon AME Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's one of the only structures still standing a century after the racist mob attack known as the Tulsa Massacre. On that day, armed mobs destroyed homes and businesses owned by Black people while threatening and attacking them as well. The chaos of that day was depicted earlier as a plot element in two fictional film treatments: Lovecraft Country and, most graphically, the opening episode of the series called Watchmen. That show had disturbing images of the horror visited upon the prosperous section of Tulsa known as Black Wall Street.
"It's very similar in history to Durham, with the Black Wall Street here," said Reverend Turner. "Of course, we had one in Tulsa that was destroyed in acts of racial terror. The first time airplanes were used to drop bombs on American soil."
A similar violent attack by a racist mob destroyed property and drove prosperous Black people out of Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. Both incidents are among the reasons for Reverend Augustine's encouragement of activism by his congregation, and the inspiration for Social Justice Sundays.
"This year, we're asking the question: If King were alive, what would he be marching for? And I believe the answer would be reparations," he said. "So we are tuning squarely on reparations as our focus this week, and leading up to the March on Washington., We're delighted to have Dr. Turner from Tulsa, who's leading the movement in Tulsa there."
The pastor from Tulsa takes to the streets there with a bullhorn every Wednesday, accompanied by others seeking justice and reparations after the massacre and theft of land from families who fled the city during the 1921 attack. He's also involved in the search for bodies of people killed during the attack, bodies that advocates believe are buried in several locations around Tulsa.
"Because we have to keep our issues at the forefront of the American agenda," he said, before delivering his message to the members of St. Joseph AME.