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'Slap in the face to black people': Trump faces backlash over rally on Juneteenth

Critics called the president racist for planning a campaign event on the date marking slavery's end and doing it in Tulsa, where African Americans were murdered in 1921.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with conservative black supporters in the Cabinet Room at the White House
President Donald Trump at a meeting with conservative black supporters in the Cabinet Room on Wednesday, June 10, 2020.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was hit with strong backlash Thursday over his decision to hold a campaign rally next week on Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of one of the deadliest race riots in American history, in 1921.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the decision to hold a rally there on June 19 "is disrespectful to the lives and community that was lost during the Tulsa race riot."

"This was a massacre of innocent Black inhabitants by White supremacists in a span of 24 hours," Bass said in a statement to NBC News.

"This was the worst act of racial violence to date," she added, "and yet this is the place that the president, who has pursued nothing but a hostile and oppressive agenda for black people since his inauguration, has chosen to celebrate."

"To make matters worse, he has chosen Juneteenth, a day of our emancipation. This is ridiculous and yet another slap in the face to black people," Bass added.

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, a member of the caucus, tweeted that a Trump campaign rally with "rebel flags" on Juneteenth "is overt racism from the highest office in the land."

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., called it "a message to every Black American: more of the same."

Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., tweeted: "99 years ago a white mob massacred hundreds of Black people in the Greenwood District of Tulsa. The most racist President of my lifetime knows exactly what message he’s sending when he goes there on Juneteenth."

Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday or an observance in 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The day, also known as Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day, celebrates the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War.

The holiday dates back to June 19, 1865, when "Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery," the CRS report said. "Even though the Emancipation Proclamation came more than two years earlier, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive after the announcement, so Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom."

Decades later, in 1921, white rioters looted and destroyed Tulsa's Greenwood District, known for its affluent black community, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.

The state's governor declared martial law and National Guard troops arrived in the city. Many black Tulsa residents were imprisoned and more than 800 people were treated for injuries, the museum says. "Contemporary reports of death began at 36. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have died," the museum says on its website.

Houses burn in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June 1921 during the "Black Wall Street" massacre.Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Thursday, Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked by NBC News' Kristen Welker what Juneteenth means to the president and whether it's appropriate to hold a rally on that date.

The African American community is "near and dear" to the president's heart, McEnany responded, adding that he uses campaign events as an opportunity to share work he's done for minority communities. She called Juneteenth a "meaningful day" for Trump.

Joe Biden’s director for strategic communications, Kamau Marshall, tweeted: "How racist is Donald Trump: He's so racist that he plans on having one of his first campaign rallies on June 19th in Tulsa, OK."

Several Republican strategists and commentators who are often critical of Trump expressed shock over the decision.

Rick Wilson tweeted about the rally: "This. Cannot. Be. Real." Rick Tyler, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and an MSNBC political analyst, tweeted, "You can’t make this stuff up." CNN's S.E. Cupp said: "Two safe assumptions here: 1. Trump likely has no clue what the significance of Juneteenth and Tulsa are. 2. But Stephen Miller does."

The only black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott of South Carolina, ducked when asked about the rally Thursday on NBC's "TODAY" show.

“I would certainly say that, the more diverse our staffs, the more we avoid these public issues that come about so I don't have a good answer for that because I'm not on the staff, and I don't know what his plan is," he said.