Listen to this article here
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, who has faced sharp criticism for his support of HB 1775, has been removed from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.
In a release Friday afternoon, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission said they were “disheartened to part ways with the governor”. The statement asserted “elected officials, nor representatives of elected officials, were involved in this decision;” indicating Commission Chair Senator Kevin Matthews (D-Tulsa) finally deferred to the wishes of his fellow commissioners.
“The ‘no elected officials’ thing was simply so Sen. Kevin Matthews could go to the Governor and say it wasn’t me,” said a source who spoke with The Black Wall Street Times on the condition of anonymity. “Matthews was not interested in kicking him off.”
The source indicated the state senator’s alternative solution was to remove all elected officials from the commission. They said that while they wish Matthews took a stronger stance, the focus should remain on the Governor’s actions.
Stitt admits he never attended a single commission meeting
On Wednesday, Stitt laughed when a reporter asked if he was concerned about being kicked off of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.
Stitt, who was hosting an impromptu barbecue on the side of a road after being triggered by a PETA billboard, told a reporter “I don’t even know how I got on the commission!”
“The governor’s on a lot of different commissions,” Stitt continued, still in his apron. “I’ve never been to one meeting.”
Stitt went on to state that the pain expressed by the Black community about the passage of HB 1775 was simply “political”.
“If somebody wants to make an issue out of something, uh, that’s not an issue, you know, they can do that,” he said. “Oklahomans know what the real story is.”
Stitt went on to say “we’ve heard from a lot of commissioners on that commission that are actually stepping off and are not agreeing with what that one, maybe, executive director is doing.”
Contrary to the governor’s assertion, the only commissioner who has resigned publicly is State Rep. Monroe Nichols, (D-Tulsa). Nichols resigned after it became apparent that Stitt would not be removed.
“[HB 1775] was the most disruptive thing that a governor could have done. And Kevin Stitt did it with a smile on his face,” Rep. Nichols said in an interview with KJRH.
A week of turmoil results in Stitt’s ouster
The commission sent multiple letters to the governor, first asking him to not sign HB 1775. After that failed, they privately sent another letter asking him to meet to discuss his involvement on the commission; he never showed or responded. Finally, they issued a public letter again asking him to respond to their letter else they would consider his snub as a resignation.
And then, a response came in the form of a public statement issued by his office. Within the statement, Stitt’s office touted “multiple productive events” he and his wife Sarah Stitt had worked on with the commission; though, what events they are referring to is unclear.
Stitt then defended HB 1775 and insinuated several commissioners, including Black commissioners from the community, did not understand racism and prejudice or the pathway to reconciliation.
Despite all of this and calls throughout the community for Stitt’s resignation, the Governor stubbornly remained on the Commission until his removal two days later.
Division persists as centennial nears
Stitt’s removal comes amid mounting pressure to rid the commission of members who support racist legislation. Many survivors and descendants of the Massacre have expressed frustration in the failure to expel commissioners whose actions cut against the group’s core values up until this point.
Senator James Lankford (R-OK) faced calls to resign earlier this year after supporting efforts to overturn the election in favor of Donald Trump. Lankford’s efforts would have disenfranchised millions of Black voters and helped to fuel the January 6th insurrection.
Recently, Mayor GT Bynum (R-Tulsa) has faced criticism for his defense of HB 1775. Bynum suggested that community members and education leaders who opposed the bill simply hadn’t read it.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to the governor’s office for comment. Our request was left unanswered.