TULSA, Okla. — Community members in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, the site of the 1921 massacre that wiped out a vibrant Black business district when a racist white mob killed hundreds of African American residents, had a message for Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday: Please stay away.
Throughout the week, residents here speculated as to whether President Donald Trump or Pence would tour the historic neighborhood known as Black Wall Street. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt initially urged the White House to visit the area, but backed down after resistance from community leaders.
But some business leaders and residents of Greenwood are still worried that Pence, who had a three-hour gap of time on his public schedule in Tulsa, would decide to come visit.
“They’re using this to promote a message that they just don’t believe,” said Regina Woods, who runs a hair salon in Greenwood, of Pence’s potential visit. “I think the reason they are even in Tulsa is to send a message to their white supremacist base.”
“But, we’re known for having Klan rallies here in Tulsa,” Woods added. “So it’s really just another Klan rally. We’re used to it.”
Bobby Eaton, 85, who was born and raised in Tulsa, said that neither Pence nor Trump were welcome in Greenwood.
“It’s an affront to me. I’d rather him stay away. He’s not a friend to black people. I don’t think he deserves to be able to come down this street,” Eaton said, referring to Greenwood Ave., which was once home to a thriving Black business district before the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst outbreaks of racist violence in American history.
Leaders of the Greenwood District draped a blue tarp over a monument honoring those killed in the Tulsa Massacre as a way of turning their backs on the vice president.
“You’re not welcome here. Hate is not welcome here,” said Tiffany Crutcher, sister of Terence Crutcher, who was killed by a former Tulsa police officer in 2016, during a community event Saturday.
“When he comes to Greenwood he’s going to know we did not invite him. Whoever invited him, they don’t speak for the community,” Crutcher said.
Pence was also expected to attend a meeting with community leaders at the Dream Center in North Tulsa, a predominantly Black part of town.
But some criticized the vice president for visiting North Tulsa without actually sitting down with people who they say actually represent the neighborhood.
“None of these people represent the community and I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to be here,” Charity Marcus, a Republican political consultant from Tulsa, said of Pence’s Dream Center meeting.
“The community made it clear they didn’t want him here and he should respect that,” she said.
State Rep. Monroe Nichols, a Democrat who represents the Greenwood area, said Saturday morning that he was not aware that Pence might be visiting the Greenwood neighborhood and had no knowledge of the meeting with community leaders.
“A visit from any sitting Vice President would typically be an amazing honor, this administration’s tone as it relates to race complicates the ‘honor’ of a visit,” Nichols wrote in an email to NBC News. “The Vice President’s own civil rights record as Governor of Indiana is also a near disqualifying factor.”
Pence’s visit to Tulsa comes after he refused to say that “Black lives matter” during an interview on a Philadelphia television station on Friday, Juneteenth, the holiday that marks the 1865 federal order to free slaves in Texas and celebrates the end of slavery.
Instead, Pence insisted that “all lives matter in a very real sense.”
“Given [Pence’s] inability to even say Black Lives Matter leads me to believe he just isn’t ready to meet this watershed moment in our nation’s history,” said Nichols.