EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was published Thursday in the Tahlequah Daily Press of Tahlequah, Okla., a CNHI sister newspaper of The Herald.
Two formative forces — President Donald Trump and Tulsa, the historic location of Black Wall Street — will meet Saturday at a rally for supporters of the president’s re-election bid.
During this time of civil unrest, Trump will need to navigate shaky ground coming to Tulsa. Not only is there the COVID-19 pandemic with cases increasing in Tulsa, but outrage over police brutality toward unarmed black men is overshadowing his visit.
Trump intends to visit Tulsa, which has a black population of only 11 percent, but is backdrop of the most well-documented massacre of black people in America —1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, where white Americans killed hundreds of black Americans.
Trump is president of the United States and should be welcomed in any state, regardless of its support of his administration. But Trump faces a perfect storm. The country is in a recession; there is a global pandemic; there are protests and violence involving police and everyday citizens; there are peaceful Americans demanding change; and this is an election year.
With any presidential visit comes uncertainty, anger, and joy. But the circumstances, and the history, makes the president’s Tulsa stop more fraught than most.
In the African-American community, the story of Black Wall Street is legendary, not only due to the hundreds of businesses, but also because of the spirit of entrepreneurs, leaders, supporters, and visionaries who built Black Wall Street in the Greenwood District of North Tulsa.
The lack of integrated schools, businesses, churches, and social venues forced black Tulsans to create, build, and support their own communities. They were not allowed to cross the railroad tracks that separated North Tulsa from South Tulsa unless it was to work.
The segregation meant that all the black scholars, thinkers, risk-takers, educators, and landowners kept to their side of town and enhanced it the best they could – and it flourished. To this day, the community has not seen an explosion of growth as it did in the early 1900s.
Trump does not poll well with African Americans, though many are conservative on a variety of topics, such as religion and family values. Trump will be less than 10 minutes away from Black Wall Street when he speaks.
There is opposition to the prospect of a Trump visit North Tulsa, which is predominantly black, due to divisive comments by the president. When he touts low black unemployment without a direct plan or initiative to increase the employment of African-American people, it hurts and angers many who feel they went out and earned their jobs without any help from the government.
Now if Trump were introduced an African-American jobs bill targeting training centers, internships, incentives for hiring and promoting black people, and offer grants for black-owned businesses to hire black employees, it would show a direct initiative to increase black employment.
Black Wall Street and the 1921 Race Massacre are, respectively, a shining light and bad mark on Tulsa’s history, but we must all remember that the current residents in Tulsa, black or white, did not pull the triggers to kill fellow Tulsans during the massacre of 1921.
If Trump decides to tour Black Wall Street, he should assure the black community he will not use the footage in campaign ads. He should embrace the moment and allow the ancestors’ spirits see him walking down the streets that were burned during the racial altercation.
The president could stop in to the Black Wall Street Gallery and purchase a painting from a local artist. He could stop at Frio’s and get a Popsicle. He could tour the historic Greenwood Cultural Center and see the images of racism, progress, and empowerment, or the basement of the historic Vernon Chapel AME Church, which is documented as the last surviving structure from the 1921 unrest.
Tulsa is a great city, and Trump has an opportunity to show respect to both his supporters and those who may not support him at all. Tulsa is better when the city works for everyone. Trump can learn of the great history of The Black Wall Street and have a successful visit.
Corey Carolina is a graduate of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, and a North Tulsa-based entrepreneur and activist. He owns Carolina Food Co., which produces Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads. He is also an author, his first book being “The Absent Father.”