Donald Trump is to convene his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus crisis in Tulsa, Oklahoma 20 June. At an already highly politically charged, incendiary moment in American history, his choice of location has raised tensions – for the city has an extensive and unresolved history of violent racial clashes.
From 31st May – 1st June 1921, a massacre occurred in Tulsa when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses in the city’s Greenwood District – it’s been dubbed the single worst incident of racial violence in US history. The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district, at that time the wealthiest black community in the entire country, known as "Black Wall Street".
— elexus jionde (@Lexual__) June 11, 2020
The tragedy erupted over Memorial Day weekend, after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old white girl, Sarah Page and taken into custody. A subsequent gathering of angry local whites outside the courthouse where Rowland was being held, and the spread of rumours he’d been lynched, alarmed black residents of Tulsa, some of whom arrived at the courthouse armed.
— Danielle Nicki (@DanielleNicki) June 11, 2020
In the ensuing fracas, shots were fired and 12 people killed, 10 of whom were white - as news of the carnage spread, mob violence exploded, with white rioters rampaging through black neighborhoods killing men and burning and looting stores and homes. Only around noon the next day did Oklahoma National Guard troops manage to gain control of the situation, and only then by declaring martial law. About 10,000 black citizens were left homeless, and property damage amounted to over $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property (equivalent to $32.25 million in 2019). An untold number died or were seriously injured.
Many survivors left Tulsa, while black and white residents who stayed in the city remained silent for decades about the travesty, and it went unmentioned in the mainstream media and local and national histories for decades thereafter. It was only this year the massacre became part of the Oklahoma school curriculum.
The curfew runs 10pm – 6am, and was implemented in expectation of a mass-deluge of protesters from outside the state. The accompanying executive order states “individuals from organized groups who have been involved in destructive and violent behavior in other states are planning to travel to the City of Tulsa for purposes of causing unrest in and around the rally”. People who refuse to leave the area risk arrest.
“This is an unprecedented event for the City of Tulsa and has hundreds of moving parts, we are asking for everyone’s help in making this a safe event for all citizens,” the Department tweeted.
— Tulsa Police (@TulsaPolice) June 19, 2020
Aside from insurrectionary violence, there are also concerns the rally could trigger a large scale COVID-19 outbreak, with the venue manager subject to legal action from aggrieved local residents who believe the event contravenes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines. The arena will supply rallygoers with masks and hand sanitizer, but will not be insisting attendees remain six feet apart.