In Tulsa, Trump visit stirs memory of racial massacre
A century after Tulsa, Oklahoma saw one of the worst racial massacres in US history, many here feel President Donald Trump is reawakening old wounds by choosing the city for his first re-election rally since the coronavirus pandemic started.
Trump, who has long stood accused of stoking racial divisions, had initially planned to hold the rally on Friday, the unofficial holiday known as Juneteenth which commemorates the end of slavery in America at the close of the civil war.
Facing outrage over his choice of such a symbolic day — which has taken on even greater significance this year with the nation roiled by protests against racism and police brutality — Trump pushed back his rally until Saturday.
But Trump’s visit is still a hard pill to swallow for many black people in Tulsa, where the mayor has imposed a curfew citing fears the event could trigger unrest.
“A majority, if not all, felt that it was a slap in the face and a sign of disrespect,” said Reverend Mareo Johnson, leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in Tulsa, which will be demonstrating in protest ahead of Saturday’s rally.
“Not only black people but white people, Latinos and Native Americans. A lot of different people view Mr Trump as characteristic of hate and racism,” said Johnson.
Trump has in the past displayed a spotty grasp of history, raising the question of whether he even knew about Juneteenth or the 1921 Tulsa massacre, in which white mobs burned down a black neighbourhood called Greenwood, killing up to 300 people and destroying some 1,200 buildings.
“Maybe he didn’t know but then postponing it to the 20th after knowing kind of still feels like a slap in the face,” said Johnson, who is 47 and says he has suffered police brutality several times in his youth.
The Tulsa massacre is still a sensitive and painful issue, said Michelle Brown, program coordinator at the Greenwood Cultural Center.
“We are as a community still very angry and upset that this could have taken place,” said Brown. “And that reparation were never paid to the families that lost homes and their businesses, and that no one was ever held accountable for the hundreds of murders that took place.”
The city is divided to this day: the black population lives in the north of Tulsa, the white one to the south. Around 15 percent of the city of 400,000 is black.
“As a city we have struggled to move forward. We have struggled as a city to address this history,” said Brown.
It has only been in the last year that teaching the history of the massacre has been made mandatory in state schools, she said.
“However, there are still many people that are not aware of this history. It is an embarrassment. Many people are in denial over this type of massacre that killed hundreds of people in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the Bible Belt of America,” she said.
“We can’t get over it. It’s part of us and of our history,” she said.
Brown said Trump’s decision to come here — with the country still reeling from weeks of anti-racism protests — was “not a good call.”
In 2001, this strongly Republican state officially apologized for the massacre and appointed a commission of inquiry into it.
After years of refusal, the new mayor agreed to fund a search for mass graves of people who may have been buried secretly.
And in February the city hired its first black police chief, Johnson noted with approval.
His white predecessor had apologized for the inaction of police during the 1921 bloodbath.
“I asked varied people of colour around the community why we were having such a hard time recruiting from our African American community. And many times it was because it related back to the race massacre,” the former police chief, Chuck Jordan, said.