Names written on boxes represent tombstones of Black lives lost during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and police violence atop a mural that reads “Black Lives Matter” on the historic Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday, August 3, 2020. | Photograph by Cory Young for The Black Wall Street Times
Published 08/03/2020 | Reading Time 5 min 21 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and editor in chief
It’s been since June that artists painted a Black Lives Matter mural on the historical Greenwood Avenue — known as Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In the dark of night to celebrate Juneteenth weekend and send a message to the Trump Administration as well as to the City of Tulsa, the bright yellow letters illuminated and began attracting a diverse group of spectators as the dawn broke into the historically-Blackowed Greenwood District.
The words “Black Lives Matter” written on Tulsa’s other famous street that sits in the shadow of Route 66 — undoubtedly brought more revenue to small mom and pop shops that aligned Greenwood Ave., businesses that were struggling since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, Mayor G.T. Bynum issued a statement that Tulsa plans to be the first US city to erase its Black Lives Matter mural from its streets. With his approval, Bynum’s staff issued the following statement:
“In order to allow for a process that properly engaged impacted business and property owners, the City of Tulsa temporarily suspended the removal of paint on Greenwood Avenue today so those discussions could occur.”
Bynum issued the temporary stop earlier in the day after community leaders, some from the philanthropic and faith communities, condemned the Mayor and the city’s controversial plans to remove the mural — which has become a symbol and banner cry for today’s modern civil rights movement.
The decision to remove the art was first brought up during last Wednesday’s council meeting when city councilors Connie Dodson and Cass Fahler began their legalized anti-Black crusade against the mural.
Cass advocated for a pro-police group who wanted to explore its options of having a street mural painted with the message “Back the Blue.” Notably, “Back the Blue” and “Blue Lives Matter” campaigns were born as counter-movements to Black Lives Matter as there were no such campaigns before the slogan Black Lives Matter.
The Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Swiney argued, “There really isn’t anything in our laws that makes a street into a canvas to convey a message or essentially make a sign out of a street surface.” Subsequent to Swiney’s statement, Dodson began advocating for the removal of the antiracist street mural.
45-days have passed since the mural was painted.
Within those 45-days, the City of Tulsa received no complaints from Greenwood businesses nor the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. No one complained that the street painting was an eye-sore or disrupted traffic from their businesses in the historical Black business district.
The Mayor’s press release continues:
“The property owner indicated they do not want the mural to remain. The merchant and tenant association indicated they do not want the mural to remain.”
The city wasn’t clear as to who the property owner was, who seemingly out of nowhere made an anti-Black complaint, but many in the community suspect that it’s the Greenwood Chamber Board that the Mayor’s office is referring to. It was later confirmed by City councilor Kara Joy McKee in a Facebook comment, that “The Mayor approached the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, which is the property owner on both sides of the street where the mural is located,” purportedly “as a way to preserve the mural.” The Greenwood Chamber allegedly expressed, according to McKee, “that they would rather have the mural removed.”
I find it interesting that the Mayor would choose to contact the Greenwood Chamber when the Chamber doesn’t have jurisdiction over the historic street.
It should be noted that like the Mayor, the majority of Black Greenwood Chamber board members are Republicans, Trump supporters and do not live in the community. Moreover, the Greenwood Chamber Board has been at odds with the Greenwood community for years, so much so, that the Greenwood community created an entirely separate business chamber — the Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce.
The Greenwood Chamber has not been actively involved with the Greenwood community. Instead, the Greenwood Chamber has been accused of gentrification by Black leaders: skyrocketing rent costs so high that Black business startups and current Black businesses in the district can’t afford to be on the historic Black Wall Street.
Having been aware of the odd relationship Tulsa Black leaders and Black entrepreneurs had with the Greenwood Chamber board for years, it can only be assumed that Mayor Bynum seized the opportunity to gain the approval from a Black minority in blackface to justify his acts of anti-Blackness through legal means.
The pitting of Black people against one another is a racist tactic that White politicians have used since the beginning of institutional and racialized enslavement of Africans in America.
In Ibram X. Kendi’s best-seller, Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi makes the above claim in his chapter called “Black Judases.”
Referencing an earlier Black author’s internalized racism and how the author was used as a vector for racist ideas, Kendi writes about how William Hannibal Thomas received much approval from White America only after demonizing his own Black people.
“Thomas advocated restricting the voting rights of naturally corrupt Blacks, policing naturally criminal Blacks, placing Black children with White guardians, and pursuing uplift-suasion. Blacks should conduct themselves, ‘so worthily as to disarm racial antagonism,’ he advised,” referring to Thomas’s unintentional anti-Black messaging (Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America [Page 290]).
Kendi argues that it was Thomas’ internalized racist views that were adorned and widely accepted by White audiences., “Thomas had always proved to be the perfect dispenser of racist ideas. [His] Blackness made [him] more believable. [His] Blackness did not invite defensive mechanisms to guard against their racist ideas about Black inferiority.” As Rebecca Marks-Jimerson and Dr. Culver Freeman gave comfort to Mayor Bynum, Thomas made White people feel comfortable about their racist decisions because he didn’t hold them accountable for their racist acts nor their beliefs.
Nevertheless, the Mayor’s press release continues:
“Utilization of any city street as a public forum would open every city street in town – both main streets and neighborhood streets – to similar use. Following the City Council’s determination last week not to issue a permit and the conclusion of stakeholder discussions today, the City will now proceed with removal of the mural when such action can be scheduled.”
The City’s commitment, with the Mayor’s approval, to erase the mural by legal means, with approval from Blacks’ suffering from internalized racism, is a classic stroke of how White supremacy continues to unfold at this level of government.
In Kendi’s latest book, How to be an Anti-Racist, he defines a racist as “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea” (Chapter 1 [Page 13]).
Hence, the removal of the Black Lives Matter mural by legal means coupled with the approval of blackface, to make one’s racist decision more palatable, is still a racist act. And G.T Bynum’s administration operates at the head of this racist idea and action to remove and erase the antiracist message ‘Black Lives Matter’ from the historic Greenwood Avenue.
It was brought to my attention that Bynum had spoken with another group about moving the Black Lives Matter mural in front of their Greenwood Ave property and out of its current location. But why would it need to be removed if the Greenwood Chamber doesn’t own the street? And why would Bynum need to seek the approval of another property owner in the district if they too don’t own the street? With the initial argument in Wednesday’s city council meeting being that it was a federal law that prohibits a street mural from being created, why would the Mayor be seeking approval from landowners?
My only conclusion was that his initial reason for approaching the Greenwood Chamber was to divide the Black community on the mural and get the approval he was seeking from a blackface and that’s systemic racism at play.
Tulsa is less than a year from commemorating the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and continues orchestrating acts of racism towards its Black citizens.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He’s also a freelance writer, appearing in TIME Magazine, Tulsa People, and Tulsa World. Frank graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.