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Barring COVID-19 outbreak, Tulsa gets through potentially explosive weekend

The coronavirus effects won’t be known for weeks or longer, but to this point, it appears Tulsa made it through what could have been a difficult few days with only a few minor scratches.

And maybe better in some ways than before.

Many feared the combination of recent civil unrest in other cities, President Donald Trump restarting his reelection campaign here after months on hiatus and opposition to Trump would coalesce into violence, destruction and a fresh COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s too soon to know about a potential COVID-19 surge tied to Trump’s rally. Perhaps the smaller-than-expected attendance lessened the risk.

On the other hand, there were several outdoor events over the weekend. Some participants wore masks and were careful to keep a distance. Some did not.

But a rampage from antifa on the far left, or the Proud Boys and the boogaloo boys on the far right, not to mention freelance rioters, looters and general nogoodniks, did not occur.

There was no rioting or looting. By all accounts, the damage consisted of some shouting and maybe a little chest bumping, a couple of macings and fewer than 10 arrests, mostly for obstructing traffic.

Trump allies and opponents alike demonstrated restraint. There were some tense moments Saturday on Boulder Avenue when protesters blocked the street and came into contact with law enforcement and Trump supporters, but the most serious charge seemed to involve a protester allegedly kicking a police officer.

State Sen. Kevin Matthews said Sunday afternoon he was pleased that the city’s Black community “stayed focused on our message and what Juneteenth is about, which is voting.”

Many Tulsans, and especially Black Tulsans, were angered when it was announced Trump intended to restart his campaign in Tulsa on Juneteenth — June 19 — while the city is dealing with a rise in COVID-19 cases and some racial issues.

The scheduling was seen as an intentional slight, although Trump has said he had never heard of Juneteenth, and his event was pushed back a day.

Many people who might have otherwise been circling Trump’s rally at the BOK Center instead attended a hastily organized Juneteenth festival in the Greenwood District. A Saturday night block party at the same time as the Trump rally seems to have been particularly popular.

“I am just glad we didn’t see the violence that some anticipated,” Matthews said.

He was also glad the weekend was just about over.

“The president had his chance to talk,” Matthews said. “Other people had the chance to express themselves, and it all happened without throwing gasoline on the flames of division.”

Matthews was asked if the weekend constituted a victory of sorts.

“There’s no victory until we have equity,” he said. “I’m excited no one was harmed. But there is no victory ... until Black lives matter like everyone else’s.”

Nehemiah Frank, one of the Juneteenth organizers, said he was very pleased with the way things worked out.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “For sure. The president tried to say protesters keep people away, but there weren’t enough protesters to keep anyone away.”

Frank said people did not want to risk their health, and “the country is changing.”

Late Saturday night and Sunday, some Facebook accounts claimed thousands of Trump supporters were locked out of the half-full BOK Center an hour before the rally’s scheduled start.

That seems at odds with independent observations and the known facts, however. Arena management could not be reached Sunday afternoon.


Gallery: The scenes before and during President Trump’s rally in Tulsa

Gallery: The scenes before and during President Trump's rally in Tulsa


Amid national turmoil, Tulsa's historic Greenwood District has its shining moment

On the day of Juneteenth, Black Wall Street — the once-proud symbol of African American economic freedom and community resiliency before succumbing to tragedy — unexpectedly became the present-day symbol of cultural and political divergence.

Before dawn Friday, 50 individuals had painted “Black Lives Matter” down the middle of Greenwood Avenue.

Around the country, similar paintings were displayed in the streets of Washington, D.C., New York City and Seattle.

Barely after the bright yellow paint had time to fully dry, Tulsans of all backgrounds posed for pictures near the creation.

“I think it’s appropriate,” said Tamara Thompson about the painting. “Black lives do matter. It’s about time we recognize the value of Black people — a marginalized group — has to society.”

Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic and President Donald Trump scheduled to hold a campaign rally in downtown the next day, there was an unmistakable buzz in the air as Greenwood set up for a large Juneteenth celebration that would include dozens of vendors and hundreds of eager residents looking to celebrate something.

And by Friday afternoon, streams of people wearing “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” shirts filled Black Wall Street.

Individuals and families hurried to the famed Black Wall Street mural created by Tulsa artist Chris “Sker” Rogers, along with fellow Tulsan Bill White and Kansas City artist Donald “Scribe” Ross to photograph the work that has become a welcome tourist attraction.

The evening was capped off with a keynote address by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the nationally known civil rights activist and founder of the National Action Network.

Standing on a large stage in a tailored gray suit, Sharpton spoke about the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and even the 2016 death of Terence Crutcher. Their deaths, and historical discrimination suffered by Black people, he said, were reminders that America has a long way to go in its pursuit of equity.

“I want them to give me the date when America was great for everybody,” he said in reference to the Trump campaign slogan.

Sharpton wrapped up his speech by throwing the crowd into a frenzy over how consistent self-determination would be needed to prevail over a system that had bound minorities for so long.

“We come to Tulsa to say we have a slingshot and five stones,” he said in an intentional attempt to draw a parallel to the David and Goliath story. “Stones of justice. Stones of peace. Stones of diversity. Stones of health care for everybody. Stones of a justice system that is fair. We are going to take this giant down.”

He added, “No justice, no peace.”

The crowd repeated the chant, many in full throat with their fists pointed to the sky as R&B music from a by-gone era boomed from loudspeakers.

Saturday was officially no longer Juneteenth. Trump’s anticipated presidential rally was about to begin.

But you’d never know it by all the activity along Greenwood Avenue.

Vendors were still selling shirts at a healthy pace. People milled around Wanda J’s restaurant and nearby Tee’s Barbershop. Others enjoyed frozen popsicles from Frios Gourmet Pops.

There seemed to be a continued appreciation of the area, and Black people, for that matter.

“Everyone is embracing the pro-Black Lives Matter movement and everything Black people have already known to be true,” said Erica Foshee-Moore, sitting on a bench with her two young sons eating ice cream.

“I think it is fortunate that I can raise a family at a historic place and learn more about Black history. It is valuable to have access to a place like this.”

That was evident by people of all races, backgrounds and beliefs venturing through Black Wall Street to document everything from the remnants of current businesses to the plaques embedded along sidewalks that marked where original businesses once stood prior to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

But near the Greenwood Cultural Center, community members sought to protect its cherished relics from political intrusion.

Early Friday, there were reports that Vice President Mike Pence would show up to speak with Black leaders.

In anticipation of the visit, residents covered portions of the Black Wall Street Memorial — which serves as an unofficial headstone for the hundreds of souls taken during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — for fear of a campaign photo op.

“We don’t need campaign Trump,” said Rev. Robert Turner, pastor at Vernon AME Church. “We need President Trump. He came here solely for himself.”

After waiting for several hours, everyone soon learned that Pence would only appear at the Dream Center to meet with faith leaders instead of heading to Black Wall Street.

“Maybe he heard that he wasn’t wanted here and didn’t want to come,” said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher.

The controversy surrounding a possible Trump administration visit didn’t put a damper on the day, though. As the afternoon and evening wore on, a block party started.

Classic and souped-up cars filled parking lots. A crowd slowly began to build. There was time for camaraderie and fellowship.

The attraction to Black Wall Street during this movement in America, where the country is rallying around Black causes, sparked interest from Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard to see what Juneteenth in Greenwood was all about.

“The biggest thing for me is educating myself,” said Hubbard, the Canadian-born football player who recently made national headlines for threatening to boycott the team over coach Mike Gundy’s wearing a One America News Network T-shirt. “I want to help educate others. I think that’s most important.”

Hubbard said he didn’t learn much about Black Wall Street or the race massacre during his formative years, though he appreciated having the opportunity to visit a place considered sacred to Black Tulsans.

“It really makes you think,” he said, reflecting about the destruction of neighborhoods in Greenwood at the hands of white mobs 99 years ago. “It’s really good to be out here and show support. It makes you feel good and strong that there is a lot of support (for Black people), but there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”

As night fell on what was a pivotal day in Tulsa’s existence, another magical moment unfolded.

Only minutes after peaceful Black Lives Matters protesters squared off with police and Trump supporters on South Boulder Avenue, the crowd of more than 1,000 made their way through the Blue Dome District along Elgin Avenue, chanting “Greenwood Matters.”

When they rounded the corner at Archer Street and Greenwood Avenue, the car show and block party awaited them. Thumping music and revving low-riders echoed under the IDL overpass until about 12:30 a.m. Sunday when the majority cleared out and headed home after a long, memorable weekend in Tulsa and on Black Wall Street.

Stetson Payne contributed to this story

Featured video

Gallery: Scenes from the Greenwood District block party Saturday

Tulsa danced: Scenes from the Greenwood District block party following President Trump's rally

COVID-19: State sets record daily high with 478 new cases

Oklahoma reported nearly 500 new cases of COVID-19 across the state Sunday, setting yet another record daily high.

The addition of 478 confirmed cases pushed Oklahoma’s total to 10,515 since the outbreak began in March. Tulsa County also recorded a new daily high of 143 new cases and leads the state with 2,349 total confirmed.

Additionally, Oklahoma saw a rolling seven-day average of 326, while Tulsa County’s rolling seven-day average was 112. Both are daily records. One new death was reported in the state, bringing the total to 369.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is urging people who have attended recent large-scale gatherings, such as President Donald Trump’s rally Saturday in Tulsa, to seek testing for COVID-19, even if they’re asymptomatic.

Interim Commissioner Lance Frye said the Health Department has deployed strike teams across 11 regions to support communities where a COVID-19 hot spot has been identified.

The strike teams consist of public health professionals, testing experts and epidemiologists who partner with local stakeholders to increase testing capacity and provide additional infrastructure support and guidance to minimize spread, he said.

“As expected, Oklahoma’s urban areas, as well as a few communities around the state, are experiencing a rise in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to increased social activity and mobility,” Frye said.


Look for the helpers: See what these Tulsans are doing to ease the stress of the coronavirus pandemic

Look for the helpers: See what these Tulsans are doing to ease the stress of the coronavirus pandemic

OU, OSU presidents to discuss returning to campus after COVID-19 on next 'Let's Talk'

Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis and University of Oklahoma President Joe Harroz Jr. will be the guests on the next Tulsa World Let’s Talk virtual town hall.

The town hall will be videotaped Tuesday and posted on the Tulsa World’s Facebook page and website Wednesday morning.

Questions for the town hall can be submitted to: wayne.greene@tulsaworld.com before 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The Tulsa World Let’s Talk town hall series is moderated by Wayne Greene, editor of the editorial pages, and sponsored by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.