Tulsa Race Massacre Commission gives Gov. Stitt option to resign his seat after new law restricting critical race theory in schools

Oklahoma Politics

TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission is opening the door for Gov. Kevin Stitt to resign from his seat on the commission after he signed a bill restricting the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

“The Centennial Commission feels that your signature on the bill at this critical time when Oklahoma should embrace its history is diametrically opposite to the mission of the Centennial Commission and reflects your desire to end your affiliation,” Phil Armstrong, Centennial Commission Project Director, said in a letter sent to Stitt on Tuesday on behalf of the entire Commission. “If you would like to contact us to discuss this further, please do so immediately. If we do not hear back from you, we will consider your lack of response as a further disavowal of the stated goals of the Centennial Commission and an official resignation from its membership.”

The Black Wall Street Times, a black-owned and operated media news company, called upon the Centennial Commission on Saturday to remove Stitt from the Commission.

Stitt signed House Bill 1775 – a controversial bill that originally concerned medical care at school sports events but was gutted and rewritten to restrict what topics and theories on race can be taught in schools – on Friday.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre. Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

The Centennial Commission sharply rebuked Stitt in their letter to him, criticizing him for evoking the name and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to justify his signing of the bill.

“In your public address last week you stated, ‘We need policies that bring us together, not rip us apart,’ and described HB 1775 as a bill that ‘encourages honest and tough conversations’ by codifying the concepts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the letter to Stitt said. “How does this law bring us together and codify the concepts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? How do you reconcile your membership on the Centennial Commission with your support of a law that is fundamentally contrary to the mission of reconciliation and restoration?”

The full letter from the Centennial Commission to Stitt is as follows:

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office issued the following statement in response to the Centennial Commission’s letter:

“Governor Stitt and the First Lady both strongly support reconciliation, healing and the rebirth of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, and have worked with the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission on multiple productive events.

While it has become clear that Mr. Armstrong does not speak for the entire Centennial Commission, it is disappointing that some commission members feel that a common-sense law preventing students from being taught that one race or sex is superior to another is contrary to the mission of reconciliation and restoration.

Governor Stitt issued Executive Order 2021-12 as a signing statement to expressly direct that the Tulsa Race Massacre, and all historical events included in the Oklahoma Academic Standards, must still be taught in our schools. The governor believes that any other interpretation of this legislation is misguided and fundamentally inaccurate, and that position was expressed to the Centennial Commission before the bill was signed into law.”

GOV. KEVIN STITT’S OFFICE

The Centennial Commission issued a statement on Friday soon after Stitt signed HB 1775. That statement said in part, “We are extremely disappointed that Oklahoma Legislators, including Governor Stitt, chose to support HB1775 which diametrically opposes the work of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. No matter how poorly written, the intention of the bill clearly aims to limit teaching the racial implications of America’s history. The bill serves no purpose than to fuel the racism and denial that afflicts our communities and our nation. It is a sad day and a stain on Oklahoma.”

C.J. Webber-Neal, President of the Greenwood Arts and Cultural Society, said Stitt should be removed from the Centennial Commission.

“If he won’t step down, quite frankly, have him removed,” Webber-Neal said. “I don’t think a person’s position should entitle them to do something when they know that their actions are a complete reversal of what the organization stands for.”

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-District 72, stepped down from the Centennial Commission Tuesday shortly after the Commission issued their letter to Stitt.

Nichols posted the following tweet, explaining why he was stepping down from the commission:

In a follow-up tweet, Nichols defended State Senator Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, who is the founder and chairman of the Centennial Commission, against a remark that Matthews did not take severe enough action against Stitt:

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.

Alicia Andrews, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, issued the following statement soon after Stitt signed the bill into law:

“I am disappointed, yet not surprised that the Governor signed this dangerous, backward facing bill. This bill represents a fragility that Oklahoma cannot afford.

The arguments for this bill focused on the feelings of the descendents of victors and made no mention of inclusion. This bill will doom our young people if they choose to leave the state because they will have been subjected to limited history that has been watered down to protect the ‘feelings’ of our Republican legislators. What are they afraid of?”

ALICIA ANDREWS, CHAIRWOMAN, OKLAHOMA DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Andrews later spoke with KFOR, saying that critical race theory helps provide a more complete history of the black experience in the United States.

“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.”

Critical race theory is taught at the University of Oklahoma, and OU administrators strongly opposed HB 1775. OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. released a statement Friday evening in response to Stitt signing the bill into law. A part of that statement is as follows:

“This new law prohibits higher education institutions in Oklahoma from requiring students to engage in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling, and from instituting an orientation or requirement for students that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex. Although OU’s mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training does not espouse superiority of one race or sex, its mandatory nature is impacted by the passage of this law. To comply with the law, students may now choose to opt out of the training, though we will strongly encourage them to still take it. The training is one of the many elements that reinforce our belief that the development and preparation of the whole student takes a multi-faceted approach. OU employees – including student employees – are still required to complete the training, along with other necessary and essential employee trainings, such as sexual harassment and workplace safety.”

PRESIDENT JOSEPH HARROZ JR., UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA

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.

Milwood Superintendent Cecilia Robinson-Woods said the bill was developed without the input of either educators or people of color.

Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel earlier this week released a statement, criticizing HB 1775, saying it is important that students “continue to learn both about and from our past in order to build an enlightened and resilient future.”

“HB 1775 appears to be a solution looking for a problem which does not exist. OKCPS follows the guidance of OSDE, teaching the state-determined Oklahoma Academic Standards using state-approved curriculum resources. We believe it is important that we continue to learn both about and from our past in order to build an enlightened and resilient future. As we do this, OKCPS will continue to provide a welcoming and inclusive learning and work environment. We stand firmly by our Vision for Equity Board Policy and remain ‘committed to creating, building, and sustaining an environment that embraces racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity and that provides equitable access to a high standard of educational success for all students with the intention of closing achievement gaps, particularly for student groups with the greatest academic needs in the district.’

We have teachers across the district who we trust to make decisions — sometimes life and death decisions — on behalf of our students each and every day. Surely we can continue to trust our educators to guide these difficult yet necessary conversations with our students inside of their classrooms. OKCPS strongly encourages Governor Stitt to veto HB 1775.”

DR. SEAN MCDANIEL, OKLAHOMA CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT

Stitt said teaching critical race theory would “divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.”

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.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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