Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said his swing through Oklahoma on Sunday and Monday “connects the dots.”
His detractors — mainly President Donald Trump — said it was exploiting tragedy to boost a flagging campaign.
On Monday morning O’Rourke spent more than two hours hearing about and walking through Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District, which was destroyed by white rioters on the morning of June 1, 1921.
Later, O’Rourke was to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the 1995 Murrah Building bombing, before finishing the day with a rally in Norman.
In each case, O’Rourke’s purpose is to draw direct lines from white nationalism of the past to ethnically motivated violence and aggression of the present to the rhetoric of Trump and his supporters.
Speaking to reporters at the corner of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street after a tour of the historic Black Wall Street area, O’Rourke recounted some of Trump’s most incendiary remarks.
“If I don’t stand up to this — if I don’t stand up and connect the dots for my fellow Americans — then I have failed this country. I have failed my community,” O’Rourke said.
“What I find Tulsa doing for me and for the rest of America today is to connect those dots all the way back to 1921 and before — the very foundation of this country,” O’Rourke said.
He says Trump’s vilification of Latin American immigrants contributed to the murder of 22 people, many of them Hispanic, at an El Paso Walmart earlier this month.
O’Rourke is a former El Paso mayor and represented the city in Congress before an unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat last year.
He began his remarks Monday morning by praising the resilience and enterprise of the black entrepreneurs who built Greenwood in Tulsa’s early days and rebuilt it following the 1921 Race Massacre, in which 35 square blocks were destroyed.
He noted that the district was further damaged and ultimately destroyed during the urban renewal period of the 1960s and early 1970s, when all but one block of the old business district was demolished.
“That is how Greenwood will be defined — its resilience and how it has overcome, not the acts of violence and racism against it,” O’Rourke said.
He did not hesitate to open up on the president when he was told that a Trump spokeswoman had said Monday morning that O’Rourke “continues to use national tragedies for his own political gain.”
Previous presidents, said O’Rourke, “have at least tried, or spoken, about bringing people together, bringing people in, to form that more perfect union. This is the first administration, the first president, that has defied the foundational principle of this country that we are all created equal.”
O’Rourke arrived in Tulsa on Sunday evening for a well-attended public meeting at a downtown pub.
On Monday morning he met with a small group at Vernon AME Church, 322 N. Greenwood Ave., and was taken on a tour of Greenwood by Chief Egunwale Amusan, Kristi Williams, City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, the Rev. Robert Turner and Gregory Robinson.