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Tulsa’s Black residents mark Juneteenth holiday amid anxiety about Trump rally

The historic Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was known a century ago as “the Black Wall Street” for being among the most prosperous parts of the U.S. for Black Americans. But in 1921, a white mob murdered some 300 Black residents and burned much of Greenwood to ashes. Now Tulsa is observing the Juneteenth holiday amid anxiety about President Trump’s looming rally. Yamiche Alcindor reports

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we saw earlier, people across the country today are observing Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States.

    The commemorations are being held in many communities, including Tulsa, Oklahoma, where President Trump will hold an election rally tomorrow.

    Some residents are upset with the timing of the visit, especially as the city is trying to deal with its long history of racial violence.

    Yamiche Alcindor's story was produced in partnership with PBS affiliate OETA in Tulsa. And a warning: It includes some disturbing images.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, commemorations for Juneteenth kicked off in Tulsa's historic Greenwood district.

    Kristi Williams, a community activist and tour guide, calls this sacred ground.

  • Kristi Williams:

    You can feel the pain. You can feel the hurt. You can even sometimes hear the tears of those ancestors as you walk through Greenwood.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A hundred years ago, Greenwood spanned 40 blocks of Black-owned business and homes. It was known as Black Wall Street, one of the most prosperous areas in the country for African Americans.

  • Kristi Williams:

    Greenwood had hotels, architects, doctors, attorneys. It was the Mecca of Black entrepreneurship, Black economics. They actually created an economy within an economy.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But starting on May 31, 1921, a white mob killed some 300 Black residents here and burned much of Greenwood to the ground.

    The Tulsa Race Massacre, as the incident is now known, came after allegations that a young Black man working as a shoe shiner had assaulted a white woman. The woman later requested charges be dropped in the case.

    The drama of the real-life massacre was captured in the recent HBO fictional series "Watchmen." No arrests have ever been made. And insurance companies refused to pay out claims. And the stories of those who survived the violence were largely burned through fear and intimidation.

  • Dr. Tiffany Crutcher:

    We didn't talk about it all, Yamiche.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Tiffany Crutcher, another community activist, says she only learned about the massacre after leaving the city.

  • Dr. Tiffany Crutcher:

    The first I heard of it is when I went off to college, and people would ask, where are you from? Tulsa. And they would just immediately say Black Wall Street or Tulsa race riot.

    After the third time, I went home and said, dad, what are they talking about?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For the Crutcher family, Tulsa's racial violence isn't just history. In 2016, her twin brother, Terence Crutcher, was killed by a white police officer. He was unarmed, and video of his killing became national news.

    The next year, a jury found the officer who killed him, Betty Shelby, not guilty of first-degree manslaughter.

  • Dr. Tiffany Crutcher:

    Terence, I miss him so much. And I made a vow that night that I would not rest until I transformed Tulsa's police department and police agencies all over this country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For her, for Kristi Williams, and for so many others in this community, the death of George Floyd has reopened wounds.

    Following the protests over Floyd's death, body cam footage showed Tulsa police arresting two Black teenagers for jaywalking, in what many saw as an abusive and unnecessary stop.

    Around the same time, Major Travis Yates of the Tulsa Police Department said in an interview that officers should actually be shooting more African Americans than they currently do.

  • Major Travis Yates:

    All of their research says, we're shooting African Americans about 24 percent less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The backlash came fast.

  • Lt. Marcus Harper:

    The issue is the culture of policing. That's what we're fighting against. Is he the voice of the Tulsa Police Department?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The comments by the local officer and the nationwide protests over policing have renewed focus on Tulsa's dark history and racial struggles.

  • Dr. Tiffany Crutcher:

    As I always say that the same culture that burned down Black Wall Street is the same policing culture that killed Terence Crutcher. And we have yet to receive reparations for Black Wall Street. And my family, we have yet to receive any atonement or acknowledgment of what happened to Terence from this city.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, this weekend, President Trump is planning to visit Tulsa for an indoor campaign rally, his first since the coronavirus shutdown.

    It was originally scheduled on Juneteenth, but he moved it to Saturday after facing fierce criticism.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And we're going to be in Oklahoma, and it's a crowd like I guess nobody's seen before.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In 2016, the state of Oklahoma overwhelmingly voted for President Trump.

    His supporters, some who lined up for days ahead of the event, say they're excited to have him back on the campaign trail.

  • Man:

    Nothing like a Trump rally.

  • Delmar Phillips:

    Him and his family have sacrificed so much for our country.

  • Darryl Henry:

    They have a steady hand and a stable genius for such a time as this that is an answer to prayer. It's an answer to prayer.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But the state is experiencing a significant spike in COVID-19 cases. And, this week, city officials, including the Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum, said they are worried about the rally and counterprotests.

  • Mayor G.T. Bynum:

    Well, I want to be clear. I'm not positive that everything is safe. I'm not a public health professional. I'm not here to testify to the safety of anything.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Tiffany Crutcher said she is most scared for the elderly, mostly African American workers at the arena where the rally will take place, and about possible violence in a city that's already seen so much.

  • Dr. Tiffany Crutcher:

    We're a ticking time bomb. And on top of that, this weekend, one of the largest gun shows at the fairgrounds in Tulsa will be taking place. So, we're trying to make sense of it all.

  • Kristi Williams:

    It's a distraction from what we really need to be focusing on.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For her part, Kristi Williams, the tour guide, says, on Juneteenth, her community needs to focus not on President Trump, but on rebuilding what they lost so many years ago.

  • Kristi Williams:

    It's a time for Black people to come together all across this world, especially in this country, but to reevaluate where we are as far as economics, as far as jobs, as far as health, as far as education, as far as housing.

    And we need to look at where we stand, create a plan to progress in all of those areas, and then we need to convene back in Greenwood on Juneteenth to see the progress that we have made.

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