President Donald Trump planned to restart his campaign for reelection on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. You’d be hard pressed to find a more tone-deaf date and location for his campaign have to kicked off, even for a person whose entire career has been misstep after misstep on race relations.
After tweeting the words of white supremacists multiple times during the last few weeks, after saying there are “good people on both sides” following a white supremacist running over and killing a peaceful protester; picking Juneteenth in Tulsa, while not unexpected, showed a deafening lack of empathy.
A couple short history lessons to help explain my points, one on the date and one on location:
We will start with the date: Juneteenth. President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. The Emancipation Proclamation was formally issued on Jan. 1, 1863.
But two and a half years later, Texas was still a slaveowners haven. Slaveowners fled to Texas in order to maintain ownership of other humans. Most people associate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, on April 9, 1865, as the end of the Civil War. It wasn’t. On May 5 of that year, the Confederate Government was dissolved and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured five days later, but pockets of resistance raged on.
On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger, who is buried in Lexington, read General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas. Texas, where slavery was still practiced, heard the following: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
Two and a half years after the freeing of the slaves, the most remote of the slave states was finally forced to stop the abhorrent practice. Freed slaves danced and sang in the streets.
Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Cel-Liberation Day as a holiday celebrating Granger’s announcement. Starting the next year, celebrations honored the date and it is recognized in 47 of 50 states. There is a push for it to become a national holiday.
And somehow, Trump and his campaign picked this day to return to the campaign trail following racial tensions, protests and riots across the country for the last month.
But the date wasn’t tone-deaf enough; they chose Tulsa as the location. The same Tulsa that is home to the worst incident of racial violence in America.
Without going too long and going too much into hearsay, on May 31, 1921, two teenagers, a black male shoe shiner and white female elevator operator, had an incident in a downtown Tulsa building. The two would have known each other, as Dick Rowland had to use the restroom on the top floor of the building where she worked, since it was the only one for black people. Another person heard a female scream and called police. The police interviewed Sarah Page, but she did not want to press charges. Of course, the records of the interview have been “lost.”
Aware that even an allegation of an assault put him at risk of being lynched, Rowland went to his mother’s house in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa. The Greenwood neighborhood, known as “Black Wall Street,” was, at the time, the wealthiest black community in the country.
The next day, despite Page’s desire for no charges to be pressed, Rowland was arrested in Greenwood.
Rumors that Rowland was to be, or had been, lynched spread and black residents showed up at the courthouse. Shooting started and 10 whites and two blacks were killed.
However, the worst was to come. As news spread of the killings, mob violence reigned on the streets of Greenwood. White rioters rampaged through Greenwood, killing men and burning and looting stores and homes. It was the next day before the National Guard managed to get control of the situation.
The death total is unknown — 39 were confirmed, but the number is likely somewhere closer to 250-300, with blacks being killed at a roughly five-to-one ratio, according to multiple reports over the years.
The riots leveled 35 square blocks of Greenwood. The property damage was north of $32 million in current money and about 10,000 blacks were left homeless. The neighborhood never recovered from the riots.
The incident between Rowland and Page happened on Memorial Day. Ninety-nine years later, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
So, when the president picks that date in that town, tone-deaf is an understatement.
Trump said the date and location were not picked “on purpose.”
If we take the president’s word, I am not certain if makes it better or worse. He and his campaign team were unaware of both historical events. How can an entire campaign team be completely ignorant of both?
Trump continued, "The fact that I’m having a rally on that day — you can really think about that very positively as a celebration. Because a rally to me is a celebration. It’s an interesting date. It wasn’t done for that reason, but it’s an interesting date."
An interesting date? A celebration?
I don’t even know how to respond, but what I do know is Trump doesn’t need any more votes in Oklahoma. There are states he will need to win in order to be reelected, but he’s going to win Oklahoma and get its seven Electoral College votes, so why is he going there?
Since I’m at a loss for words, I’ll let Representative Al Green (D-Tex.), respond. “(it is) more than a slap in the face to African Americans, it is overt racism from the highest office in the land,” he said.
Or as Representative Val Demings (D-Fla.) said, the date and time are “a message to every black American: more of the same.” Demings is the descendent of slaves.
Even Trump’s former communications director Anthony Scaramucci called it “abhorrent and a wink at his racist supporters.”
There are states he will need to win in November to get reelected, but he wanted to restart his campaign in Tulsa on Juneteenth. So, either Trump’s entire campaign staff is uninformed, unaware and uneducated or it was another example of his racist behavior.
On Friday evening, after the interview quoted above, Trump posted, on Twitter, "Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out ... of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents. I have therefore decided to move our rally to Saturday, June 20th, in order to honor their requests."
And I mean, I guess it might have been an oversight by him.
Anything can happen once and just be an accident. But twice, that’d be harder to explain, right?
It’s not like they moved the Republican National Convention to Jacksonville on the anniversary of “Ax Handle Saturday,” a date marred by brutal attacks by white supremacists against a lunch counter sit-in. I mean, it’s not like Trump will be accepting the nomination 60 years to the day after ax handles were used to attack peaceful protesters in an attack that quickly went from those part of the sit-in to any African American in sight. In this climate against police brutality, not even Trump could have a rally about him on the anniversary of police officers and Ku Klux Klan members side by side beating any African American around. Oh, wait …
Reach MATT JONES at (606) 326-2644 or email@example.com.