The president of the United States hit a new low when he used the military to clear D.C.’s Lafayette Park of citizens. They were exercising their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly while the president was exhibiting a chest-thumping use of force. He brandished a Bible, something which he seems not to have read.
That was his low, and he got even worse in his offensive rhetoric, especially about the murder of George Floyd and the protests of police brutality. He stooped even lower and illustrated his infamous racial insensitivity when his campaign announced that he would have his first rally since the coronavirus shutdown the nation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Juneteenth. June 19, 1865, was the day when enslaved people in Texas, the last enslaved Black people in the nation, learned that they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation was on Jan. 1, 1863, but Black folk didn’t learn of their freedom until two years later.
Initially choosing to have his first campaign rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth (he eventually reversed course and changed the date — but not the location — after intense backlash) was a slap in the face to Black Americans. Juneteenth is a celebratory day, but there is nothing to celebrate when our bigoted president attempts to co-opts our holiday for a cheap political stunt. The Divider-in-Chief will supposedly deliver a message of “racial conciliation” in Tulsa, a site known for white hate and economic envy that left hundreds dead and thousands homeless. I’m not sure he can deliver such a message, especially when he recently said that issues of prejudice and bigotry could be solved “quickly and easily.”
The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 took place when armed white people swarmed Greenwood, an affluent Black area of Tulsa. They looted houses, then burned them, dripping with economic envy. A gubernatorial commission concluded that the cause of the massacre was “too many n—–s” having too much money. ”
Money wasn’t the only thing the Black people of Tulsa had. They also had an unwavering sense of self-determination and pride. When segregation excluded Black residents from libraries, wealthy Tulsans built their own. Black people had pharmacies, hospitals, grocery and department stores, theaters, churches (one was torched in the massacre), and schools. You could find the same professionals in Greenwood as you could in “white” Tulsa — physicians, attorneys, teachers, entrepreneurs, and more. This thriving Black community was threatening to whites, who were heavily invested in the myth of white superiority. While Greenwood thrived, envious white folks plotted and, according to Dr. Olivia Hooker, a Tulsa survivor who died in 2018, stockpiled guns, waiting for an excuse to attack.
When 19-year-old Dick Rowland jostled 17-year-old Sarah Page in an elevator, whites were ready. They threatened to lynch Rowland, and then when armed Black men said they would prevent a lynching, it was on. Whites swarmed Greenwood, burning, killing, destroying a symbol of Black pride and entrepreneurial capacity. The people who lost their property were never made whole. Those who had insurance found their claims denied. The white mob responsible for the destruction went mostly unpunished, reinforcing the notion that you could terrorize Black people, destroy their property, and suffer no consequences.
We have a president who insults Black people and experiences no consequences, a president so unabashedly racist in his words, now piles on with his Juneteenth and antics. His press secretary said Juneteenth is a “very meaningful day for him.” Really? The same president who thought, just three years ago, that Frederick Douglass was still alive, has now developed some knowledge and empathy for Black history, empathetic to instances of systemic racism?
While I am repulsed by the president’s decision to go to Tulsa on Juneteenth, there is a silver lining to his cluelessness. The day after his announcement, there was massive news coverage about Trump’s disgusting decision, and accompanying robust commentary. White Americans don’t know much about Black history, but neither do many Black folks. If you didn’t know about Juneteenth and the Tulsa Massacre before, you surely know about it now. The president’s ill-advised decision has increased awareness about a chapter in Black history that too many want to deny. The destruction of Greenwood, a thriving Black community, because of jealousy and malice is one of the many reasons the demand for reparations is a solid one.
45 walks around with his foot in his mouth; his actions and comments after the George Floyd murder protests are clear examples. But the celebration of Juneteenth and the horrors of the Tulsa Massacre are not taught in standard history books and not well known outside the Black community. Thanks to Trump, these incidents are better known. Every slap has a silver lining.