(Update: At a press conference June 17 — two days after the publication of this story — Gov. Kevin Stitt said he and U.S. Sen. James Lankford were now recommending that President Donald Trump not visit the Greenwood District owing to the disruption to Juneteenth celebrations that would be caused by the Secret Service’s advance team. The article below remains in its original form.)
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt told media this morning that he will be introducing President Donald Trump at his June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa and that he has requested for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to tour the Greenwood District, one of the most affluent African-American communities in the country before a white mob burned it to the ground in 1921.
But the first-term Republican governor also revealed that he was one of a number of people who requested that the president’s rally be delayed from its original date of June 19, a day called Juneteenth that recognizes the end of slavery in America.
“We felt like because of the Juneteenth celebration in the African-American community and for unity and reconciliation in our state it would be better to move that off of that date,” Stitt said. “We were so thrilled that the administration — they listened not only to us, but I’m sure their other advisors were telling them the same thing. Now June 20 is great.”
Stitt said he wants to show the president that Oklahomans “do things together” while acknowledging a racial tragedy in the state’s history.
“I personally have asked the vice president and the president if they would come with me to the Greenwood District to kind of take a look at that,” Stitt said. “Last year, we appropriated $1.5 million for the museum to commemorate the race riot, because our 100-year anniversary is going to be next year. I told the president on the phone this morning, I said, ‘Would you please come with me to tour that and maybe put some federal dollars to help build that museum?'”
Trump ‘probably met differently than most presidents’ in Greenwood District
The museum to which Stitt referred is the Greenwood Rising Historical Center, a planned project with a new location south of the Greenwood Cultural Center, the area’s preeminent entity recognizing the history of Black Wall Street, which burned during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) serves as the chairwoman of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, which held a press conference in front of the Greenwood Cultural Center on June 12 in response to Trump’s rally being announced for Juneteenth. Hours later, the president tweeted that many people had “reached out to suggest we consider changing the date.”
Asked Monday about Trump delaying his rally and potentially touring the Greenwood District, Goodwin reiterated her caucus’ priorities from Friday’s press conference.
“We remain focused on making sure folks are using absentee ballots, that there are policing reforms, and that people are voting yes for State Question 802,” Goodwin said.
Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) offered his thoughts about Stitt requesting that Trump tour the Greenwood District.
“I think it’s good for every president to know about the history of Black Wall Street and the Greenwood District,” Nichols said. “I think the sensitivity is with somebody who, in the wake of Charlottesville, made a comment that there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’ That is the challenge with this president.”
Nichols had held his own press conference last week to announce plans to develop a series of policing reforms for the 2021 legislative session, which begins in February. Monday, he said people are likely to be concerned by a Trump tour of the Greenwood District because “the level of reverence in terms of these kinds of issues is never there” from Trump.
“Those of us who live in Tulsa consider that sacred ground. I think that’s why he’s probably met differently than most presidents would in that same situation,” Nichols said. “It would be great for the president to be exposed to it, but only if the president is really willing to internalize significance, to really hear how his administration and his comments impact people of color, and to hopefully be a little more introspective with how he moves forward with his administration. If he can’t do those things, then I don’t think he should tour it. I think he should just keep it moving. If he’s willing to do those things, then maybe that’s a different story.”
Stitt said he supports a legislative interim study aimed at answering the racial justice and policing practices questions Nichols has raised.
“I think the conversation absolutely needs to happen,” Stitt said, referencing his own panel discussion on race. “It’s a cultural deal that we need to make sure our police departments have the right culture at the top — the leadership on how they are going to handle policing throughout our state. Again, I am going to be very supportive of our police officers, but we can have all those conversations. We want everybody to feel safe and respect our police officers.”
Stitt would prefer outdoor venue for rally
Trump’s rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, though Stitt said discussions are ongoing about potentially moving the large rally outdoors owing to COVID-19.
“I’m looking for another potential venue where we could move it outside,” Stitt said. “We are trying to take every safety precaution possible.”
Stitt said rally attendees should wear masks if they want to, but he reiterated his opposition to mask mandates.
“We are a free society. You are free to come to that event,” Stitt said. “If you are immune-comprimised in any way, we suggest that you wouldn’t come. But you are free to come, or you are free to stay home.”