OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday said he has asked President Donald Trump to tour the Greenwood District during his visit to Tulsa on Saturday. The governor said it will be an effort to secure federal dollars for a museum dedicated to the area’s history, including the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Stitt also addressed several questions regarding the president’s visit, including a possible venue change, COVID-19 and what precautions to take in large gatherings.
Trump is expected to visit Tulsa on Saturday, after moving the rally back a day. Originally, it had been scheduled for Juneteenth, the annual commemoration of the emancipation of black slaves.
Also on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that he would be joining Trump at the rally.
Stitt said officials are looking for an alternative location because so many have requested tickets. According to a tweet by the president, ticket requests are approaching 1 million. The event is currently scheduled for the BOK Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, with doors opening at 3 p.m.
On Monday, Trump told a pool reporter, “we have hot spots as I said you might ... we’ll take care of the hot spots.”
He also said one of the reasons he chose Tulsa was because of Stitt’s work on COVID-19.
Pence said, “they flattened the curve” in the state.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, the president said the convention hall, the Cox Business Convention Center, near the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa will also be used, increasing total capacity to 62,000 for his first campaign rally since early March.
That would mean there would be “over 900,000 people that won’t be able to go, but hopefully they’ll be watching,” Trump said.
“But it’s amazing. No one’s ever heard of numbers like this. We’re going to have a great time. We’re going to talk about our nation. We’re going to talk about where we’re going, where we’ve come from.”
Following a Board of Equalization Board meeting, Stitt fielded questions about Trump’s visit.
Are you at all concerned about Trump coming and a lot of people, crowded, safety concerns, what are your thoughts on that?
Stitt: We are really excited the president is coming. I talked to the vice president on Saturday and actually the president called me today and there are over 1 million requests for his visit, so we are excited that we are being recognized as one of the first states to safely and measurably reopen.
I am looking for a potentially other venue. Maybe we could move it outside. That is still kind of in the works. It is currently at the BOK Center, so we are trying to take every safety precaution possible to make it a safe event.
That is the thing about our society. We are a free society. You are free to come to that event. If you are immune compromised in any way, we suggest you wouldn’t come. You are free to come. You are free to stay home. But we have to learn how to deal with this.
Right now, Oklahoma is in a great position. We have 150 people (with COVID-19) in the hospital across the state of Oklahoma. So, we need to continue to be vigilant and continue to take precautions, but we also have to learn how to deal with COVID.
It is in the United States. It is in Oklahoma. And we can’t let it dictate our lives. We have to go about our lives, but we are going to do it with every precaution possible.
Are you worried about having 1 million people in one spot?
Stitt: Well, I think the president would love to have 1 million people here, but unfortunately we do not have a venue big enough for that in Oklahoma. But it just shows the excitement about him coming to Oklahoma, and we support the president. But sure, we will obviously take every precaution possible to make sure it is a safe event. That is why we are looking for some potential other things.
I was really pleased we moved it to June 20. That was a request we made. So we are really excited to move that to June 20.
You have told people over and over and over, no large crowds. This sort of goes against that. Can you reconcile that?
Stitt: During the beginning when we were really trying to understand this and build PPE (personal protective equipment) and build hospital capacity, we of course wanted to slow down those large crowds. We were following the CDC guidelines.
As of June 1, we are opening back up our economy and loosening some of those guidelines. So, the president coming, we are excited about him being here. We are looking forward to being great hosts.
What about the spikes they are seeing in Tulsa right now?
Stitt: Again, I go back to how many people are in the hospital (with COVID-19) in the state of Oklahoma and it is 150. You are naturally going to see increases in numbers of positive cases because we tested last week 5,000 in one day. We tested close to 300,000 people in Oklahoma at this point so we are going to see those go up. Close to 7,000 positive cases.
But the thing we have to remember as Oklahomans is there are less than 1,000 active cases right now. So again, we are going to be cautious. I am going to be very transparent with the data we show Oklahomans.
We are just testing more asymptomatic people, so we will see more positive cases in the state as we ramp up testing.
But again, we have to watch those hospital capacities. We have to watch that, but we are in really, really good shape from a health care perspective in the state of Oklahoma.
Stitt: I will be at the rally. I will be introducing the president.
Did the president indicate why he chose Oklahoma?
Stitt: The vice president kind of alluded to it more than the president did. They just wanted to showcase Oklahoma as a state that handled COVID correctly, did it the right way.
I am going to be going to the White House on Thursday. I am going to take a small-business, minority business owner with me to the White House with a couple other governors. We are going to have kind of a roundtable with the president and talk about those businesses that were able to continue to operate even during the COVID crisis, so I am looking forward to that on Thursday.
Again, it is just the first of 100 different events he is going to hold. Oklahoma was one of the first states to safely and measurably reopen. I think that is one of the reasons he chose our state.
Do you recommend that people wear masks to this rally?
Stitt: I don’t know what the president’s recommendations are. If people want to wear masks — absolutely. They need to wear masks and come to it. I have been very cautious about mandating masks in public.
If you can maintain social distancing then we are not going to mandate it. But, of course, you are welcome to wear a mask if you feel more comfortable getting out around people — then 100% you need to wear a mask.
A mandate is different than a suggestion?
Stitt: Am I suggesting masks? Sure, if that makes you feel more comfortable. I would think it would be great.
Did you say you had made a request of the Trump campaign to move that date from (June) 19 to the 20?
Stitt: Correct. Yes. We felt like because of the Juneteenth celebration in the African American community and for unity and reconciliation in our state, it would be better to move that off of that date.
We were so thrilled the administration listened not only to us, but I am sure other advisers were telling them the same thing. Now, June 20 is great.
I have personally asked the vice president and the president if they would come with me to the Greenwood District to kind of take a look at that.
Last year, we appropriated $1.5 million for the museum to commemorate the race riots because our 100-year anniversary is going to be next year.
I told the president on the phone this morning. I said would you please come with me to tour that and maybe put some federal dollars to help build that museum. It is the 9/11 architects that did the 9/11 museum in New York who are actually designing that memorial here in Tulsa.
Being from Tulsa, that is very important to Tulsans. It is very important to Oklahomans and really reconciliation in our state.
Gallery: Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921
In 1921, white mobs invaded Greenwood and burned it down
A growing but divided city had tensions rising. How World War I influenced residents.
Key figures in 1921
Greenwood was defined by freedom and opportunity
An encounter on an elevator and concerns about a lynching
Tulsa Tribune article cited for sparking massacre
Dick Rowland's life threatened while jailed as crowd gathers outside
Tulsans take up arms and there are issues with special deputies
Fighting begins in Greenwood and the neighborhood is soon overrun
Mobs won't let firefighters douse the flames
Airplanes flew over Greenwood as it was attacked
National Guard called in, denies report that machine guns were used to kill dozens
Dr. A.C. Jackson was killed as he tried to surrender in his front yard
Death toll remains unknown; search for graves continues today
Black Tulsans were marched through the streets and detained at camps throughout city
Red Cross reports the massive devastation in Greenwood
Key locations in Tulsa during the 1921 Race Massacre
Mount Zion Baptist Church was burned down but, like Greenwood, persevered and rebuilt
Tulsa Race Massacre: Quotes from survivors, officials and others
Tulsa Race Massacre: Recommended reading
Tulsa Race Massacre / The Tulsa World Library
Tulsa Race Massacre: Was 1921 the first aerial assault on U.S. soil?
Tulsa Race Massacre / The Tulsa World Library: See all of the coverage of the race massacre in this special report.
"The first time Americans were terrorized by an aerial assault was not Pearl Harbor," a CBS News story says leading up to coverage this weekend of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
"Scott Pelley reports on a race massacre in which an estimated 300 people, mostly African American men, women and children, were killed, and aircraft were used to drop incendiary devices on a black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Greenwood Massacre of 1921 has been largely ignored by history, but Pelley finds a Tulsa community seeking to shed more light on what's been called the worst race massacre in history," a preview reads for a "60 Minutes" story airing 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
Context for viewers: Six airplanes circled the Greenwood area during the morning hours of June 1.
What they were doing, and why there were so many, has long been a matter of passionate debate. Many people believe they were used to shoot at people on the ground and bomb Greenwood.
Officials said the small craft, generally thought to be two-seat, single-engine Curtis “Jenny” biplanes, were merely keeping track of activities on the ground and relaying the information through written messages dropped in weighted metal cylinders attached to streamers.
To what extent this explanation was initially challenged is unclear, but in October 1921 the Chicago Defender published a story in which it said Greenwood had been bombed under orders of “prominent city officials.”
The story cited a Van B. Hurley, who the newspaper said had given a signed statement to Elisha Scott, a Kansas attorney.
Scott filed dozens of lawsuits on behalf of victims but doesn’t seem to have ever entered the Hurley affidavit into the record. There is no record of a Van B. Hurley living in Tulsa around the time of the massacre or that anyone by that name ever belonged to the Tulsa police force.
But that doesn’t mean the story did not have substance. Many people believed city officials were behind the burning of Greenwood, and the explanation that the squadron of planes was only used for surveillance struck some as suspiciously thin.
Certainly the planes had a great psychological impact on many. For example, Mary Jones Parrish wrote about them in her account, as did prominent attorney B.C. Franklin in his.
The Defender story said the planes dropped “nitroglycerin on buildings, setting them afire.”
But nitroglycerin is an explosive, not an incendiary. It is also highly unstable and dangerous.
That has caused some to speculate that something like Molotov cocktails might have been used, or “turpentine balls” — rags soaked in flammable liquid and wrapped around the head of a stick.
There are several practical reasons why trying to light and throw incendiary devices from an open cockpit airplane of that era would seem a difficult, dangerous and even foolish idea.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t done.
Tulsa Race Massacre / The Tulsa World Library: See all of the coverage of the race massacre in this special report.
Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921
Tulsa was home to one of the most prosperous African American communities in the country. Businesses flourished along Greenwood Avenue — dubbe…