TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission removed Gov. Kevin Stitt from their ranks.
The Centennial Commission met on Tuesday and decided to remove Stitt, who was an honorary member. They announced his removal on Friday.
Stitt signed House Bill 1775 on Friday, May 7, prohibiting schools from teaching critical race theory, an act that was denounced by several Oklahoma school officials and Democratic leaders.
“Elected officials, nor representatives of elected officials, were involved in this decision. While the Commission is disheartened to part ways with Governor Stitt, we are thankful for the things accomplished together,” a Centennial Commission statement said. “The Commission remains focused on lifting up the story of Black Wall Street and commemorating the Centennial.”
The commission previously gave Stitt the option to resign from their ranks.
A Tulsa World article on Stitt’s removal from the Centennial Commission included the following statement from Stitt’s office:
“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.
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.”GOV. KEVIN STITT’S OFFICE
C.J. Webber-Neal, the President of Greenwood Arts & Cultural Society, Inc., called upon the Centennial Commission to end Stitt’s honorary membership. Webber-Neal issued the following statement Friday:
“The Greenwood Arts & Cultural Society, INC. is very pleased that the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission has with one concise voice taken action to remove Kevin Stitt, Governor of Oklahoma, from it board.
Based upon the stated mission of this body, we stand in solidarity with their action regarding Governor Stitt’s role as a member of this Commission, based upon his signing of HB 1775 into law. The truth of the horrific story of 1921’s Race Massacre (as well as other history of the experiences of minorities in America) must be taught honestly and unequivocally, so that future generations will learn of the demons of our past so we as a society will not be doomed to repeat this evil act.C.J. WEBBER-NEAL, GREENWOOD ARTS & CULTURAL SOCIETY, INC., PRESIDENT
At this time, we also encourage this body to add in the Governor’s place survivors and descendants of the massacre, so that representation of this painful period in our hpistory can be reflected thru the experiences of those who were directly impacted by this tragic event.
Furthermore, we encourage any available monetary relief be given by this organization to the three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. This should be done as both a sign of reconciliation and the rising of the eternal spirit of Greenwood. This we believe is long overdue.”
Several Oklahoma educators and officials called upon Stitt last week to not sign the bill. They blasted him after he announced in a video posted to Twitter that he signed the bill.
Paula Lewis, head of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board, on May 4 tweeted that HB 1775 was “an outright racist and oppressive piece of legislation,” and urged Stitt to not sign the bill.
Stitt said schools will continue to teach about events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre, but said teaching critical race theory would “divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.”
Alicia Andrews, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, spoke with KFOR after Stitt signed the bill, saying critical race theory analyzes how moments in history have influenced society.
“Critical race theory says societal problems are influenced by what has happened in our nation’s history, and if we only tell the story on a slanted view, it’s not the full story,” Andrews said. “Let me tell you, my history, the history I was taught in school was ‘African Americans were slaves, Rosa Parks refused to get off the bus, Martin Luther King made a speech and everything was gravy.’ That’s not true history.”
Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, a supporter of HB 1775, spoke with KFOR earlier this week and said that critical race theory teaches that there is a superior race.
However, Christopher Lehman, an Edmond native, Oklahoma State University graduate and professor of ethnic studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, said that critical race theory does not create division among students or say that one race is superior, but instead sheds light on racial discrimination.
“What critical race theory talks about are the policies and the law. The focus is on the discrimination itself and the hurt that discrimination caused those people,” Lehman said. “Critical race theory does not teach that people of different skin colors are better. When I teach it, I don’t focus on how people feel about other people of color. I focus on the actions that the laws and the policies prescribe.”
Lehman said the belief that critical race theory is detrimental to race relations is incorrect.
“Teaching about critical race theory doesn’t promote the racial divide maybe any more than teaching what Hitler did promotes Nazism,” Lehman said.
The Centennial Commission commemorates the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The massacre occurred over an 18 hour period from May 31 to June 1, 1921, as a white mob attacked Black community members and set fire to homes and businesses in the predominately Black Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa. Thirty-five city blocks were burned down, over 800 people were treated for injuries and historians believe as many as 300 people may have been killed.
The Centennial Commission is focusing on memorializing the tragic event as its 100th anniversary approaches.
“With just weeks before the Centennial of one of the worst Race massacres in the history of the U.S., Commissioners stand united in focusing time, energy and efforts on descendants, survivors, education, economic development and progress this year and beyond,” the Centennial Commission said in their statement. “We hope to see many of you in person or virtually at some of our events that we hope will drive change for years to come.”
The Centennial Commission’s full statement is as follows: