Wednesday, June 24, 2020 1:33 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
US President, Donald Trump, got more than he bargained for on Saturday 20 June 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma during his rally. What happened showed that the African American (or a White liberal) has the brain of an elephant which neither forgets goodness nor injury inflicted on it, notwithstanding the passage of years.
The venue that Trump had boasted would be jammed to the rafters was not. The few who were there were his officials and those who strolled by, not as a result of interest, but curiosity on the next faux pas the President would display. In fact, New York Times reported that Trump and several staff members stood backstage and “gazed at the empty Bank of Oklahoma Center in horror. It went further that he and Vice President Mike Pence had “canceled plans at the last minute to speak at an outdoor overflow rally that was almost entirely empty, despite claims of nearly one million people registering for tickets to attend the event in Tulsa, Okla., and the president’s false boast of never having an empty seat at one of his events.”
The president, who had been warned aboard Air Force One that the crowds at the arena were smaller than expected, was, as contained in the report, stunned, and “he yelled at aides backstage while looking at the endless rows of empty blue seats in the upper bowl of the stadium, according to four people familiar with what took place. Brad Parscale, the campaign manager who had put the event together, was not present.” The US president did not find it funny at all. In other words, thousands of the electorate gave the arena a wide berth, a development that made Trump growl at his campaign planners, blaming them for making the fact that six people tested positive for coronavirus public.
While Trump was ready to shift the blame of the failure to his fall guy, the media, a deeper look shows that what happened had roots in the present and the past, the two linking in a murderously dramatic way.
George Floyd, a 46-year old African American, was, on 25 May 2020, killed by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Chauvin, using a time worn system called chokeholds, knelt on Floyd’s neck, choking him. The other cops there were: J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Kiernan Lane and Tou Thao who allegedly prevented sympathisers from pleading for the victim. Video of the act went viral and the Minneapolis Police Department fired the officers. While Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, later second-degree murder; the other cops were slammed with “aiding and abetting second-degree murder.”
These, however, did not reduce the anger of the African American populace. Thus, there were wild and wide protests, tagged “Black Lives Matter” in over 2,000 U.S. cities and around the world. And then the Minneapolis City Council banned chokeholds.
It was with this image on Trump and what is perceived as his white supremacist tendency that he started his rallies. And he took it to Tulsa, Oklahoma, opening an old wound, inflicted by the Ku Klus Klan, notoriously called the KKK or the Klan. It is an American white supremacist hate group whose primary targets, according to historians, are African Americans as well as Jews, immigrants, leftists, and others.
As narrated by Ena Ofugara, a social critic who writes from the US, “It was the site where the biggest black economy, known as Black Wall Street was destroyed by the KKK and honestly, Regular White People of that era. Blacks who had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and finally had a rich neighbourhood, were attacked and massacred. Their businesses destroyed. The place that would have signaled black growth for centuries, razed to dust…”
True! Overnight on 31 May and 1 June, 1921, in a period of just about 12 hours, the single largest incident of racial violence in American history, (according to an 18 June 2020 report by Annalisa Merelli in Quartz.com), occurred in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “More than a thousand African American homes and businesses were looted and burned to the ground; you had a thriving community occupying more than 35 square blocks in Tulsa that was totally destroyed,” Scott Ellsworth, the author of Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, told Quartz. “It looked like Hiroshima or Nagasaki afterwards.” Quartz published the article two days before Trump’s rally!
In a recently discovered account of the massacre, Buck Colbert Franklin, then a lawyer in Greenwood, as the report has it further, paints a harrowing picture. “I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building,” he wrote. “Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.”
The destruction of Greenwood, as Quartz puts it, “began as an attempted lynching of a Black teenager and turned into full-blown destruction perpetrated by a white mob. As many as 300 people were killed, more than 10,000 remained homeless, and according to the Tulsa Race Riot Report of 2001, an estimated $1,470,711 was incurred in damage—equal to about $20 million today.”
Here is what triggered the trouble, according to a 29 June 1921 report by Walter F.White, as published in Digital Prairie: “The massacre began over Memorial Day weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator of the nearby Drexel Building. He was taken into custody. After the arrest, rumors spread through the city that Dick Rowland was to be lynched. Upon hearing reports that a mob of hundreds of white men had gathered around the jail where Dick Rowland was being kept, a group of 75 black men, some of whom were armed, arrived at the jail with the intention of helping to ensure Dick Rowland would not be lynched. The sheriff persuaded the group of black men to leave the jail, assuring them that he had the situation under control. As the group of black men was leaving the premises, complying with the sheriff’s request, a member of the mob of white men attempted to disarm one of the black men. A shot was fired, and then according to the reports of the sheriff, ‘all hell broke loose’. At the end of the firefight, 12 people were killed: 10 white and 2 black. As news of these deaths spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. White rioters rampaged through the black neighborhood that night and morning killing men and burning and looting stores and homes, and only around noon the next day did Oklahoma National Guard troops manage to get control of the situation by declaring martial law.”