Since announcing Wednesday he will hold his first campaign rally in months next week, President Donald Trump has come in for harsh criticism from advocates and lawmakers for scheduling the event to take place in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma—the site of a brutal racist massacre in 1921—on the specific date of June 19th, the holiday known as Juneteenth which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
"This isn't just a wink to white supremacists—he's throwing them a welcome home party," Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said on Twitter.
This isn't just a wink to white supremacists—he's throwing them a welcome home party. https://t.co/lUXpnUoFQU
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) June 11, 2020
Trump's rally will come in the midst of what has become a moment of national reckoning on racism and policing. Demonstrations in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers have sparked a worldwide movement against racial injustice and police brutality.
In that context, the history of the location and the timing of next Friday's rally was not lost on critics.
As Democracy Now! explained:
It was on June 19, 1865, that enslaved Africans in Texas first learned they were free—two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The day is now celebrated as Juneteenth.
Tulsa recently marked the 99th anniversary of one of the deadliest mass killings of African Americans in U.S. history. In 1921, a white mob killed as many as 300 people, most of them Black, after a Black man was accused of assaulting a white elevator operator. The white mobs destroyed a thriving African American business district known at the time as the Black Wall Street of America.
Trump's decision to rally supporters at the site of racist violence is nothing new for the Republican Party. On August 3, 1980, then-candidate Ronald Reagan addressed supporters at the Neshoba County Fair, just a few miles from the Philadelphia, Mississippi site of the Freedom Summer murders of three civil rights advocates in June 1964.
Just a coincidence I'm sure. Like when Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. https://t.co/Sdw12cQD74
— Sam Sacks (@SamSacks) June 11, 2020
The decision by Trump to head to Tulsa was announced Wednesday during a roundtable with a group of black supporters at the White House. On Thursday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany addressed the growing controversy over the date and location, telling reporters that Trump "often shares the great work he has done for minority communities" during his campaign rallies.
Question: "Is it appropriate for him to be holding a rally on Juneteenth?"
Kayleigh McEnany: "Look, President Trump is -- the African American community is very near and dear to his heart." pic.twitter.com/jvQKrVh69E
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— The Hill (@thehill) June 11, 2020
"It's a meaningful day to him, and it's a day where wants to share some of the progress that's been made as we look forward and more that needs to be done," said McEnany.
In Tulsa?!?! On Juneteenth?!?! Question for @PressSec: would a cross burning have been too subtle?
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) June 11, 2020
But the president's critics weren't buying it, referring to Trump's longstanding and well-established history of racist comments and behavior stemming from long before his entry into presidential politics in 2015.
"It's not only offensive but it also feels like a desecration," author Morgan Jerkins said on Twitter. "We still haven't found all the graves of those who were massacred there back in 1921."
No but seriously, the whole thing is evil. A Trump rally. On Juneteenth. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the black Wall Street massacre. We live in the pettiest version of hell
— elexus jionde (@Lexual__) June 11, 2020
Sure, but there's really no need for the comparison. Trump holding a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth is like Trump holding a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth. https://t.co/3sVp20VSrm
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) June 11, 2020
I hate to break it to you but this is absolutely deliberate and the only thing shittier than doing it in Tulsa would be doing it in Galveston (it is Juneteenth next Friday) https://t.co/W3u3dKZOnj
— vaccine haver (@kerrence) June 10, 2020
Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), a frequent critic of the president who has regularly introduced articles of impeachment in the House against Trump, tweeted that the decision was meant to send a message of hate.
"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," Green said.
Other lawmakers weighed in on the decision, calling Trump out in stark terms.
"Donald Trump is a racist," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). "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."