Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) invited President Donald Trump to visit the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre when he travels to the city on Saturday for a campaign rally ― an event the president had postponed after heavy criticism for initially scheduling it on Juneteenth, a holiday that recognizes the end of Black slavery in the U.S.
But the state lawmaker who represents the area, Rep. Monroe Nichols (D), told HuffPost that suggesting Trump visit the site of the massacre was like “pouring a little salt in the wounds” of Black Oklahomans.
“You can’t roll back civil rights protections and then come to the Greenwood District to pay homage,” Nichols, who is Black, said in an interview.
The Tulsa rally will be Trump’s first since pausing campaign events during the coronavirus pandemic. The date ― initially scheduled for June 19, Juneteenth ― as well as the location both earned quick condemnation, given Trump’s record on race, his history of racist dog whistles and his response to ongoing protests of anti-Black racism and police brutality.
Stitt told reporters on Monday that he personally asked the president and vice president to join him in visiting the Greenwood District, an area once known as “Black Wall Street.” With the 100th anniversary of the massacre approaching in 2021, Stitt mentioned that the state has appropriated $1.5 million toward a museum on the massacre and that he was hoping for federal funds to help build it.
“Being from Tulsa, that is very important to Tulsans,” Stitt said. “It is very important to Oklahomans and really reconciliation in our state.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum (R) said he welcomed the idea of Trump visiting. Stitt and Bynum are both white.
“When you consider that people actively tried to cover up the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre for decades, I think it would be historic if the president of the United States paid his respects to the site and used the international media focus that follows him to raise awareness of what happened there,” Bynum said. “I am grateful for Gov. Stitt making the recommendation and entirely agree with it.”
The White House declined to comment on whether Trump will visit the area.
The importance of the site is exactly why Nichols thinks a Trump visit might not be such a good idea. He noted that Trump said in 2019 that there were “very fine people” on both sides when white nationalists clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The remark “still rings the ears of a lot of African Americans here in Tulsa today,” Nichols said.
The Significance of the Greenwood District
Tulsa’s Greenwood District, an affluent African American community, was the talk of the nation in the early 1900s. Greenwood Avenue, known as Black Wall Street, had it all: restaurants, hotels, newspapers, theaters, grocery stores, beauty salons, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices and much more.
As Greenwood boomed, racial tensions grew in Tulsa.
On May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a young Black man, was accused of sexually assaulting Sarah Page, a white woman, while the two were in an elevator. The details differed ― some witnesses said Rowland had tripped ― and grew more exaggerated as time went on. Rowland was arrested the next day, and soon after, white and Black armed mobs gathered around the courthouse where Rowland was being held.
Shots were fired, and Black Tulsans retreated to the Greenwood District. Angry white mobs followed, looting and burning down Black Wall Street.
Within 24 hours, more than 800 people were injured, and historians now believe as many as 300 were murdered. Over 6,000 Black Tulsans were imprisoned and held for days. The Greenwood District had ceased to exist.
The fact that Stitt referenced the massacre as “Tulsa Race Riot” ― verbiage that has been intentionally left behind as it doesn’t accurately portray the event 99 years ago ― was criticized by Nichols, as was the governor’s lack of outreach to Black lawmakers.
“I think it is pretty frustrating that the governor has done no outreach to the Black community or the Black elected officials here in Oklahoma, and given the response, it seems like it is just pouring a little salt in the wounds to be like, ‘Oh Mr. President, you come here!’ even though people have had a big issue with him being here in the first place,” Nichols said.