This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the darkest race-related incidents in our country’s history: the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.
As CNBC noted in a 2020 retrospective, the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was known as “Black Wall Street” up until 1921, such was the wealth concentrated there. Then, that year, a race riot killed at least 300 people and left 35 blocks of the neighborhood “in charred ruins.”
The Oklahoma Historical Society described it as “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” and you’d be hard-pressed to find competition.
To commemorate the lives lost and the community that was left devastated, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission has been marking the 100-year anniversary in various ways. Up until Friday, one of the members was Oklahoma’s GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt.
He was ousted, according to the Tulsa World, as “[m]any commission members, and especially many of the most active members, are angry about legislation Stitt signed last week dealing with the way race, racism and diversity are taught in public schools, colleges and universities.”
“After a meeting Monday night, a letter on commission letterhead was sent to Stitt, saying a lack of response would be considered a resignation,” the Saturday report read.
And what was that legislation? A ban on critical race theory being taught in Oklahoma’s schools.
According to KOCO-TV, Stitt signed House Bill 1775 earlier in the month. It bans, among other things, any teaching or training which states or implies “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously”; “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex”; or that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”
The concepts outlined in the bill are broadly associated with critical race theory, the au courant academic concept that America — along with almost all Western societies — is structurally racist. Educators in favor of critical race theory have proposed upending the curriculum to extirpate white privilege via processes like “anti-racism”; the most visible example of this is the inclusion of material from New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project,” which posits America’s real founding was in 1619, when slaves were first brought to the continent.
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“Now more than ever, we need policies that bring us together, not rip us apart,” Stitt said in a Twitter video discussing the signing of the new legislation.
“As governor, I firmly believe that not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex. That is what this bill upholds for public education. Verbatim it reads, ‘no teacher shall require or make part of a course that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.’”
My statement on HB 1775. pic.twitter.com/2EgMh7A7xZ
— Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) May 7, 2021
Gov. Stitt went out of his way, in fact, to make it clear the bill didn’t cover teaching about the Tulsa Race Massacre, among other things.
“To be sure, we must keep teaching history in all of its complexities and encourage honest and tough conversations about our painful past,” Stitt said.
“Nothing in this bill prevents or discourages those conversations. In fact, this bill clearly endorses teaching to the Oklahoma academic standards, which were written by Oklahoma educators and include events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Tulsa Race Massacre, the emergence of the Black Wall Street, Oklahoma City lunch counter sit-ins led by Clara Luper and the Trail of Tears.”
But in 2021, banning critical race theory from being taught on the taxpayer’s dime made Stitt’s position on the Tulsa Massacre Centennial Commission untenable.
Last week, Business Insider Australia reported, the commissioners “agreed through consensus to part ways” with Stitt.
“While the Commission is disheartened to part ways with Governor Stitt, we are thankful for the things accomplished together. The Commission remains focused on lifting up the story of Black Wall Street and commemorating the Centennial,” a statement issued through a publicist on Friday read.
To Stitt (and, quite frankly, to objective observers), this was all thoroughgoing bunk. The governor noted his part on the commission was “purely ceremonial” and said they were spreading “falsehoods” about what the critical race theory bill entailed.
“It is disappointing to see an organization of such importance spend so much effort to sow division based on falsehoods and political rhetoric two weeks before the centennial and a month before the commission is scheduled to sunset,” Stitt’s office said in a statement.
“The governor and first lady will continue to support the revitalization of the Greenwood District, honest conversations about racial reconciliation and pathways of hope in Oklahoma.”
That’s the great lost opportunity here. There’s nothing that specifically links critical race theory to the Tulsa Race Massacre; proponents of this Ibrim X. Kendi piffle might try to argue that anything in American history can and has to be viewed through the lens of critical race theory, but that’s an awful stretch when you consider commissions like these are supposed to bring powerful people with disparate ideological views together — not act as a public policy cudgel.
It’s a stretch Phil Armstrong was willing to make. Armstrong, the project manager for the commission, said in a letter that he was “gravely disappointed” Stitt didn’t attend a Monday meeting with the commission on the signing of HB 1775. This is curious because, again, the bill has nothing to do with the murder of roughly 300 black Tulsa residents or the destruction of the Greenwood section.
Don’t tell that to Armstrong. According to The Associated Press, Armstrong said the intention of the bill was “diametrically opposite to the mission of the Centennial Commission and reflects your desire to end your affiliation.”
In short, this had nothing to do with the Tulsa Race Massacre and everything to do with leftist commission members preening and waiting for their closeup. They don’t have much longer, considering the commission sunsets on June 30. As a final act, it seems, the more vocal members of the body have decided to make the time they have left about political point-scoring regarding a bill about teaching students critical race theory with taxpayer money, not about remembering what happened in 1921.
What a way to remember the victims of “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”
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