In the aftermath of the 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa, many of the residential areas surrounding the Greenwood District were still in ruins. Into one of those spaces, the Tulsa KKK built a giant white building in 1923 at 501 N Main called Beno Hall. The new building that housed the 3,000 member klavern served as a constant reminder to the black community of Tulsa’s racial supremacy. From there, Klansmen terrorized the traumatized black citizens. It was also here that the “Tulsa Benevolent Society,” a front group for the KKK, oversaw the supposed rebuilding of the Greenwood area.
In the early 1930s, the building was sold and became several other businesses until in God’s providence, a revival tent was set up next door at 601 N. Main.
In a vacant lot under the shadow of Standpipe Hill, Pentecostal Holiness pastor, Steve Pringle, set up a revival tent and began conducting services. He invited a popular young evangelist named Oral Roberts to conduct meetings in May of 1947. There, in the shadows of Tulsa’s past, Roberts reclaimed lives for the gospel. During the nine week campaign, Oral Roberts made front page headlines when a man shot at him during a service. From that point, crowds swelled to over 2,000 a night. Roberts meetings were so popular that Pringle began to think of a permanent home for his new converts. Naturally, he had his eye on the large building next door, the infamous Beno Hall. Pringle worked to remodel the 1,800 seat building and named it “Evangelistic Temple.”
Some who have told this story believe that the white Pentecostal congregation would be perfectly at home in a building that was once a symbol of white supremacy. But this certainly misses the providential power of this moment. The reclaiming of Beno Hall through the popularity of Oral Roberts is not coincidental. Over the next few years, Roberts became a pioneer in racially integrating his healing meetings around the US. As a report from a 1949 Tacoma Healing Crusade comments, “They came, old and young, white and colored, from all portions of the tent.” But when he was home, Evangelistic Temple became the Roberts’ home church. From this home base, as pointed out in my recent article in Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology, Roberts used his position to challenge racial predjudice in American and in Tulsa.
By the mid-1960s, Evangelistic Temple had moved south to 53rd and Peoria and the old white building was eventually torn down. Today, it is a vacant lot. Whereas Beno Hall was erected as a symbol of white supremacy’s power to tear down a black community, today that vacant lot is a monument of the power of the gospel to tear down prejudice and reclaim spaces.
(The view north on Main. The empty lot is where Beno Hall/Evangelistic Temple once stood. The building in to the north is where the tent crusade took place in 1947. To the right is Standpipe Hill. To the south is Cain’s Ballroom.)
Read more about Oral Roberts’ legacy of racial reconciliation in Tulsa “Healing for All Races” in Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology here.