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Trump in Tulsa

If Donald Trump had set out to offend black America and send a coded signal to his racist supporters he could not have done a better job by holding his campaign rally at the site of the nation's worts racist massacre, says PETER FROST

PRESIDENT TRUMP told the world that he had a million requests for tickets for his first election rally since the coronavirus crisis. In the event his audience didn’t even half fill the venue.

Whole empty sections had just a single fan practising the best examples of social distancing ever seen. Never mind about one or two metres, in Tulsa, it seems, everyone could have the full nine yards.

Trump first denied that the place wasn’t full and then said that wicked protesters had kept the crowds away.

This despite his tweeted threat that “protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes” who planned to attend his Tulsa rally would be treated more harshly than they have been in liberal-run cities like New York, Seattle and Minneapolis.

In the event the few Trump fans who did turn up heard their president explain that the reason there were so many coronavirus virus cases was because his wonderful world beating testing was finding the cases. He explained that he had instructed his testers not to do so many tests so the US would have less cases.

After this plainly stupid bit of Trumpian logic his plainly very embarrassed media team tried to explain it had been a joke. Almost as funny as his previous advice to drink bleach and shine a UV light up your bum.

Trump had planned his first comeback from the virus lockdown for June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The chosen place and date could not have been worse unless Trump’s sole aim was to offend as many black people as possible.

First that date. For more than 150 years on every June 19 African Americans have celebrated freedom from slavery. They called it Juneteenth. It commemorates the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation freeing all slaves was first read aloud in Texas, the last state compelled to comply with it.

In fact it took several years and the end of the civil war for the emancipation proclamation to become a reality for hundreds of thousands of black slaves. After more than two years, there were still thousands of slaves who hadn’t been told of their freedom.

Newly freed African Americans rejoiced at what became annual gatherings commemorating what started to be known as Freedom Day, later Jubilee Day, and then Juneteenth. The day is a state holiday in 47 of the 50 US states and in the District of Columbia.

On Juneteenth black communities organise barbecues, outdoor celebrations and commemoration rallies celebrating black liberation.

Traditionally the US president makes a proclamation acknowledging the day’s significance to African Americans. Barack Obama did so every year and even Trump marked the day last year.

This year racist Trump planned to have his first post-virus election rally on Juneteenth, nothing to do with black Americans to be sure. Immediately protests started and even his own team leant on him heavily to move it to Saturday June 20. Reluctantly he delayed the date by just one day.

If he hadn’t offended enough blacks with that date, let’s have a look at the location he chose. Tulsa is the second-largest city in the state of Oklahoma, the once mainly agricultural state famed in Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads.

Tulsa has a population of just under half a million, many of whom work in aeronautical factories that are its biggest industry. According to the latest figures, white Americans make up 70 per cent; African Americans 15 per cent; Hispanic 5 per cent; Native American 5 per cent.

Trump planned his rally near the site where in 1921 a white mob burned down what was called Black Wall Street. White vigilantes killed hundreds of black people who had developed their own businesses to rival white capitalism.

Even in economics, white supremacy in the US has a deep and extensive history and legacy. While the colour of money may not matter, the colour of the money maker certainly does.

In 1919, for example, a mass wave of racial violence tore through American cities. White vigilantes, motivated by the fear that competition from black workers would reduce white employment and wages, murdered hundreds of blacks.

The Tulsa massacre happened just two years later in 1921, another horrific campaign of violence and racial-economic resentment — perhaps the worst racial outrage in the history of the US — and Trump’s rally was just two weeks from its 99th anniversary.

By the 1920s, the African American community in Tulsa had its own entrepreneurial business district called Greenwood (“the Black Wall Street”). Tulsa was rigidly segregated, so African-American business people bought from black suppliers and sold to black consumers.

Greenwood became a hub of prosperous black entrepreneurs who rented property, ran buses and even charter aeroplanes, community taxis, a theatre, garages, grocery stores, sweetshops, hotels and law offices.

These African-American economic successes, especially in business and property ownership, caused fear, jealousy and hate in the white community. White corporate and railroad interests coveted the Greenwood land. The all-white Tulsa media fanned the flames of racial hatred.

On May 31 1921, thousands of armed white vigilantes — many wearing brand new bright silver stars to show they were official deputy sheriffs — invaded the Greenwood district.

The Ku Klux Klan tried hard to get in on the act but the white folk of Tulsa seemed quite capable white supremacists without the Klan’s help. They gunned people down and set fires throughout the district — and most incredibly, a fleet of privately owned aeroplanes, mainly crop dusters, rained down incendiary bombs on the black businesses of Greenwood.

In less than 24 hours the white mob reduced a vibrant district of over three dozen busy city streets to a wilderness strewn with dead bodies. Three hundred died, with many others badly injured. Almost all casualties were black. Property damage was over £20 million in today’s values. Many black families fled Tulsa, never to return.

After 99 years for Tulsa’s black residents, memories of those events still hurt. The massacre depleted black wealth to a degree still felt today. Urban renewal — which often entailed the destruction of black communities to make way for bigger roads and gentrification — has served to underline the devastation.

Tulsa’s massacre wasn’t talked about for decades. Now black community organisations are working to document the Tulsa massacre and celebrate the achievements of the city’s historic black business community.

Tulsa’s black community were looking forward to commemorating the 100th anniversary of the massacre next year with the opening of a new history centre. There were also to be initiatives that advance black entrepreneurship and economics, and programmes and projects that build the community.

That was until President Trump rode into town to hold his election rally.

Of all possible times and venues to launch a re-election bid, Trump’s choice reeked not just of insensitivity but also of deliberate, calculated racially targeted callousness. Exactly what you would expect of racist President Trump spouting his hollow promises to Make America Great Again.

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