Black leaders and others are criticizing President Trump after he announced Wednesday that he’ll hold a campaign rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of a race massacre that left hundreds of Black residents dead at the hands of white mobs.
The rally is scheduled for Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in America. It will mark Trump’s first campaign rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement drew condemnation from critics as a move to inflict pain on Black Americans at a time when the nation is reeling from the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police. The combination of the location — Tulsa was home to a thriving African American business community known as Black Wall Street that was destroyed when a white mob killed hundreds of Black residents in 1921 — and the date of the rally was seen as a nod to white supremacists.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday morning pushed back against the criticism, calling Juneteenth “a meaningful day” for the president.
“It’s a day where he wants to share some of the progress that’s been made as we look forward,” she said.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris called the decision a “welcome home party” for white supremacists.
US Representative Al Green of Texas, one of the first members of Congress to call for Trump’s impeachment, decried the “overt racism” coming from the office of the president.
A Trump rally with rebel flags (a symbol of slavery and racism) in Tulsa, OK (the place of #TulsaMassacre) on Juneteenth (a day of emancipation recognition) is more than a slap in the face to African Americans; it is overt racism from the highest office in the land. #RejectRacism— Congressman Al Green (@RepAlGreen) June 11, 2020
In Massachusetts, two Senate primary rivals and Trump critics expressed outrage at the president, with both Representative Joe Kennedy and Senator Ed Markey calling Trump a racist and highlighting the history of the massacre in Tulsa.
99 years ago a white mob massacred hundreds of Black people in the Greenwood District of Tulsa.— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) June 11, 2020
The most racist President of my lifetime knows exactly what message he’s sending when he goes there on Juneteenth.
Donald Trump is a racist. He has contempt for the history of Black Americans and the Black lives destroyed by white mobs at the Tulsa Massacre. We need to do more than defeat him, we need to root out the systemic racism in our country that enabled him to ever come to power.— Ed Markey (@EdMarkey) June 11, 2020
In a statement, Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson pointed to pre-pandemic unemployment statistics and initiatives around criminal justice reform in response to the criticism.
“As the party of Lincoln, Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth, which is the anniversary of the last reading of the Emancipation Proclamation," Pierson said. “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.”
Trump has been eager to resume campaign rallies since he was forced off the campaign trail as states began banning large gatherings in March. Oklahoma was among the earliest states to begin loosening coronavirus restrictions, with salons, spas and barbershops reopening in late April. Republican Governor Kevin Stitt’s most recent reopening phase places no limits on group gathering sizes as of June 1 and leaves the decision about how closely to adhere to social distancing guidelines up to business owners and local officials.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.