From The Black Wall Street Times’ Editorial Board
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission has finally reached its breaking point. The Commission convened for a late-Monday meeting in what was intended to be a discussion on the fate of Okla. Governor Kevin Stitt’s role on the commission. Despite being formally invited to participate, no one from the governor’s office showed for the meeting. The Governor did, though, appear on Fox News Monday morning, stating “now more than ever, we need policies that bring us closer together – not rip us apart.”
This was at least the second time Stitt purposefully snubbed the Commission. Just days earlier, the Commission issued a public letter rejecting the racist language of HB 1775 – a law that shields White students from learning about the trauma and effects of systemic racism if it makes them feel discomfort or guilt. The other commissioners asked the highest-ranking public servant serving as a commissioner to veto the bill, but Stitt did no such thing. In fact, he signed the law and issued a video statement in which he flagrantly co-opted the words and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in support of the racist law.
My statement on HB 1775. pic.twitter.com/2EgMh7A7xZ
— Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) May 7, 2021
None of this was enough for Commission Chairman Senator Kevin Matthews (D-Tulsa) to withdraw support of Stitt, though. According to multiple sources, Matthews even went so far as to try to immediately dissolve the commission rather than hold Stitt accountable. Many on the board rejected his proposal. As the light of day shines on Senator Matthews’ loyalty to Stitt, at least two commissioners are reassessing their formal involvement with the Commission.
Before publishing this story, The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Governor Stitt’s office to confirm whether he or his office had participated in the Monday evening meeting. The BWST also requested the official tally of support and opposition for HB 1775 which the governor’s office was collecting from constituent phone calls.
An official spokesperson for Stitt responded to insinuate the Governor’s office has an official policy to not engage with the Black Wall Street Times – the largest Black-owned and Black-serving media outlet in Oklahoma.
In the email, the spokesperson stated, “Hi Sarah, thanks for reaching out but our policy is to respond to journalists, not activists pretending to be reporters. Good luck! – Carly”.
The governor’s message to the more than 1 million readers of the Black Wall Street Times is clear; he has no interest in sharing information with you, the journalists or Black-owned publication you trust. This anti-Black dog whistling is nothing new to members of the press who represent Black media. Anti-Blackness has inarguably become a cornerstone of the Stitt Administration’s general policy position.
Why is Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt refusing to speak with Black news outlets in Oklahoma and allowing his spokeswoman to be directly hostile and disrespectful to the largest Black-owned newspaper in the state?
— Kendall Brown (@kendallybrown) May 11, 2021
Based on this interaction, it is the Black Wall Street Times Editorial Board’s opinion that Governor Stitt and his communications team are operating with a segregated media policy. The governor is a frequent guest on Fox News, a far-right activist cable network. BWST is a Black-owned, Black-managed and Black experience-centered media outlet based out of Tulsa, Okla. – home of the original Black Wall Street. If Fox News has access to the governor, BWST readers deserve access, too.
Stitt spokesperson, Carly Atchison, is known for her unprofessionalism and general lack of understanding of the duties of a taxpayer-funded communications director for a public office. Early this year, Atchison was reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigations by several social media users after tweeting about putting “House Democrats in body bags” in since-deleted tweets just days before the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol. She has also expressed confusion when media outlets do not publish press releases from the governor’s office in their entirety – something even the most inexperienced of communications staffers should know.
ACLU-Oklahoma has become increasingly disturbed by the Stitt Administration’s lack of accountability and buckling of civil rights. In a statement this morning, ACLU-OK Director of Policy and Advocacy Nicole McAfee said, “As Oklahoma stands, still unwilling to support reparations for the Tulsa Race Massacre and now unwilling to engage in the critical education necessary to understanding the ongoing repercussions of the mass murder of Black Oklahomans just 100 years ago, it is clear that Governor Stitt does not belong on the Commission.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum has also centered himself in the conflict, disregarding the pleas from Black and Brown Tulsans to stand up for them. On Monday morning, Bynum stated “I thought the governor did the right thing. It’s really important for folks not to listen to the rhetoric about this bill but to look at what the bill says. The bill doesn’t say you can’t teach uncomfortable facts.”
In response to Bynum’s comment expressing confusion over the controversy, State Representative Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) said, “Mayor Bynum has a better understanding of the issue than most. He isn’t dumb, so this isn’t ignorance or tone deafness. I imagine it’s about getting elected to higher office in Oklahoma which makes his position even more disappointing. I hope whatever that higher office might be is worth it. It certainly wouldn’t be for me.”
Despite the conflict-prone mayor’s assertion that Black opponents of the bill haven’t read the bill, many, including Nichols, have. Nichols was on the floor of the House chamber as the bill was debated. He also serves on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission alongside numerous representatives from Tulsa’s philanthropies, businesses and community. He said, “The mayor’s stance places him in direct conflict with K-12, Higher Education and several other advocacy groups. I think the mayor is on an island as it relates to people from his own city and how they view HB 1775.”
Bynum has earned a reputation for his White patriarchal I know what’s best for Black folks default position. In a June 2020 interview with local conservative radio host Pat Campbell, Bynum agreed with Campbell that working with Black activists was like “feeding a beast.” He continued, “And I can attest that is the strategy of this group because they have told me that in meetings that we’ve had in my office.” He continued, “They’ve said, ‘mayor our job is not to thank you for what’s happening, our job is to push you’… and they’ve said it with complete sincerity. They believe their role from a civil rights standpoint … is to keep pushing, to never be satisfied regardless of what we do as a city.”
ACLU-OK noted their disappointment in Bynum, “As Mayor Bynum joins Governor Stitt in trying to excuse, and further endorse, this clearly racist legislation, it is clear that elected office is not the equivalent of leadership, and people do not deserve to sit with those doing the work just because of a title they’ve won through racist rhetoric and repeated cowardice in the face of what is right.”
They added, “the ACLU of Oklahoma stands ready to continue to ensure that free speech and the necessity of reckoning with our past and our present are accessible in classrooms, in commissions, and in our government.”