The Black community and political leaders are calling on President Donald Trump to at least change the date of an Oklahoma rally kick-starting his return to public campaigning, saying that holding the event on Juneteenth, the day that marks the end of slavery in the United States, is a “slap in the face”.
Trump campaign officials discussed in advance the possible reaction to the Juneteenth date, but there are no plans to change it despite fierce blowback.
California Senator Kamala Harris and Tulsa civic officials were among the Black leaders who said it was offensive for Trump to pick that day – June 19 – and that place – Tulsa, an Oklahoma city that in 1921 was the site of a fiery and orchestrated white-on-black attack.
“This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists – he’s throwing them a welcome home party,” Harris, a leading contender to be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, tweeted of Trump’s rally plans.
“To choose the date, to come to Tulsa, is totally disrespectful and a slap in the face to even happen,” said Sherry Gamble Smith, president of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce, an organisation named after the prosperous Black community that white Oklahomans burned down in the 1921 attack.
At a minimum, Gamble Smith said, the campaign should “change it to Saturday the 20th, if they’re going to have it”.
President Trump is holding a rally in Tulsa on #Juneteenth — the anniversary of when slavery was fully abolished.
— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 11, 2020
Officials with the Trump campaign, which announced the plan on Wednesday, defended the rally.
“As the party of Lincoln, Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth,” said Katrina Pierson, senior adviser to the Trump campaign. “President Trump has built a record of success for Black Americans, including unprecedented low unemployment prior to the global pandemic, all-time high funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and criminal justice reform.”
The Trump campaign was aware in advance that the date for the president’s return to rallies was Juneteenth, according to two campaign officials. Although choosing June 19 was not meant to be incendiary, some blowback was expected, the officials said, but the campaign was caught off guard by the intensity, particularly when some linked the selection to the 1921 massacre.
Tulsa was the site of the worst racist violence in American history. The president’s speech there on Juneteenth is a message to every Black American: more of the same.
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) June 11, 2020
The campaign picked Tulsa’s BOK Center, with a listed seat capacity of 19,199. The arena’s Facebook page shows organisers calling off shows there by country singer Alan Jackson and other performers, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Arena marketing director Meghan Blood said on Thursday she did not know yet about any plans for social distancing or other coronavirus precautions for Trump’s rally, which would be one of the larger public gatherings in the US at this stage of the outbreak.
If you're looking to attend President Trump's rally in Tulsa next Friday, you must first agree not to sue him if you get coronavirus pic.twitter.com/4LJp9od3wx
— Kevin Liptak (@Kevinliptakcnn) June 11, 2020
Campaign officials said safety decisions would be made in coordination with local authorities. A disclaimer on the ticket registration website said attendees voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold the campaign liable for any illness.
The campaign officials said the Trump campaign picked Oklahoma, a state Trump won easily in 2016, because arrangements could be made quickly, for a variety of reasons: Oklahoma has a Republican, Trump-friendly governor; the state is not seeing huge numbers of coronavirus cases; and the arena was “turn-key” and could easily be opened for the rally.
Moreover, the rally will be held up the turnpike from a district held by Rep Kendra Horn, one of the Democrats Republicans feel is vulnerable in the November general election.
Campaign officials also wanted to hold the rally where they could all but guarantee a big crowd despite coronavirus concerns, according to the officials. Oklahoma is one of the most Republican states in the nation and Trump has not held a rally there as president, so it will likely deliver an enthusiastic audience eager to see him, the officials believed.
Trump coming out in favor of keeping confederate names on military bases and scheduling his first rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth is not just racist, it's flagrantly, deliberately, purposefully racist and cruel. You think they need votes in Oklahoma? Come on.
— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) June 11, 2020
Nationally, as research brings to light more about the 1921 massacre, Tulsa is increasingly associated with the rampage in which white Tulsans razed a thriving Black business community, killing as many as 300 people. Long dismissed by generations of white Tulsans as a race “riot”, the May 31 to June 1 events were marked this year by community memorials.
Oklahoma’s Black Democratic Party chairwoman condemned Trump’s rally plan. “A day set aside to commemorate the freedom of enslaved people must not be marred by the words or actions of a racist president,” Alicia Andrews said.