TULSA — In the main area around the BOK Center, vendors sold custom-made President Donald Trump memorabilia, such as red hats stating his 2016 campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” and his 2020 slogan “Keep America Great.” The Tulsa National Guard manned checkpoints at multiple locations within a half-mile radius. Compton, California, rapper YG’s popular 2016 song FDT blasted from cars circling the area, with some occupants holding signs stating “Black Lives Matter.”
Just one mile away in the historic Greenwood District, Black people congregated and enjoyed a community atmosphere without having to experience Trump’s rally directly. Screaming, chants and the engines of golf carts carrying guardsmen could not be heard in Greenwood. Instead, couples walked to the area looking for open bars or restaurants, disappointed that the Trump rally had forced businesses to close.
A multitude of Black individuals filled Greenwood, Tulsa’s historic neighborhood that was known as Black Wall Street prior to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Many were sharing laughs, with Black youth running around and eating various flavors of popsicles from Frios Gourmet Pops. Black elders could be heard telling teenagers “not to go over there” to the Trump rally.
Tulsa residents and those from out of town recognized that Greenwood was the safest place to be. Chris Thompson Sr. said he had been over to the BOK Center earlier.
“The tension was real thick,” said Thompson Sr., 47. “You’d notice that there were a few other people down there from the Black Lives Matter movement and everything. We came by a couple of Trump supporters down here, too.”
Thompson Sr., his wife, Anedtra, own Kingz and Queenz Transport, LLC. Thompson said he grew up in the Greenwood area, but the Thompsons and their 26-year-old son currently reside in Edmond.
Anedtra Thompson said her favorite things about Greenwood are the culture, the familiarity, the family and the environment.
“Everyone here is laid back — chilling, looking after each other, bringing up old memories and stories,” she said. “I’m seeing Black art right here.”
However, the family said there were intimidation attempts from individuals believed to be supporters of the president.
“Only when they pass by with all their flags to try to feel like they are trying to intimidate us,” Anedtra Thompson said. “Or bring some type of reminder that they’re here still, two blocks away.”
But the Thompsons said any effort to intimidate failed.
“It’s not working,” Anedtra Thompson said. “We can come here anytime. Our hotel is over at the Hyatt — and that’s where we’re staying — right down the street from where the rally is. And we were like, ‘Why are they all the way over here?’ Because they don’t come over here besides to try to put something in our minds — to make a point.”
Muskogee resident Caitlyn Cravatt, 26, and her friend, 20-year-old Elejandro Walker were near the area of Trump’s rally but said they walked to Greenwood because they did not feel safe around the National Guard or “angry supporters.”
“We drove over there and they started yelling at us,” Cravatt said. “So we started walking this way because we saw the big ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign on Facebook and were like, ‘We are going over there.'”
The two said they felt much more comfortable in Greenwood than they did near the rally.
“Over here is more calm. (At the rally) they have flags, the National Guard is up there,” Cravatt said. “It looks like chaos.”
Tensions rise as speech approaches
Across the downtown Tulsa area, a large portion of visible Trump supporters and attendees were perceived as peaceful in the early hours of the afternoon, saying kind words to people passing by who may have had different views.
But still, some tension existed between the two distinct parties: one group that wants “four more years” and another group who doesn’t.
Just an hour and a half before Trump gave his speech, a large crowd gathered around 19-year-old Sincere Terry near the intersection of Boulder Avenue and 4th Street, just down the road from the Tulsa World.
“We are the new generation,” said Terry, a Black student from the University of Central Oklahoma who was leading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Trump, no Pence” chants.
Nearby, a woman who had an American flag draped over her shoulders commented to her friend.
“She is young,” the woman said. “She doesn’t know what she is talking about.”
As day turned to night, multiple scuffles were reported between Trump supporters and protesters, which were broken up by the Tulsa Police Department and the National Guard. People were arrested during the early moments of Trump’s speech, which included criticism of media members.
“There were some very bad people outside doing some very bad things,” Trump said. “These people are sick — the fake news.”
Trump’s rally was previously set to take place on June 19, and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt invited him and Vice President Mike Pence to tour the Greenwood District. However, after Trump’s campaign and Stitt received backlash for the planned tour on the day of Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, which celebrates the emancipation of Blacks enslaved in the United States, the tour was was called off and the rally moved to June 20.
“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.”
Trump makes his pitch to Black voters
Trump used a portion of his speech to appeal to Black voters by attacking his presumed Democratic opponent, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
“I’ve done more for the Black community in four years than Joe Biden has done in 47 years,” Trump said. “Racial justice begins with Joe Biden’s retirement from public life.”
Trump said in his speech that he has directed Secretary of the Interior David Burkhart to place the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, located in Tulsa, on the African American Civil Rights Network.
Before Trump’s speech, however, Chris Thompson Sr. said the movement toward equality will always continue, no matter who is elected in November.
“It’s about justice and not to feel threatened to walk around within our skin,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, they system is not set up for inequality. It changes against us as a people, if you ask me.”
Thompson said he is making sure the rest of his family is having the correct conversations about what is going on in America regarding racism.
“I was having a talk with my wife and son, and we are an endangered species if you ask me,” he continued. “You have Black men after Black men. You have the justice system after Black men. You have the White man after the Black men. So where did you win at?
“At the end of the day, I do believe we have to keep maintaining a peaceful, loving walk in this matter because violence with violence is not going to really solve it. It’s going to escalate.”
(Update: This story was updated at 10:12 a.m. Monday, June 22, to include additional information.)