The Speaker
Friday, 14 June 2024 – 09:41

What is Juneteenth and why is Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally so controversial?

Donald Trump is set to host a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma as part of his bid for re-election, but the decision to hold the rally on Juneteenth – an important day in African American history – has caused uproar as the Black Lives Matter protests rage on. 

On 1st January 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation, a document that stated: “all persons held as slaves […] are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Yet the 1st of January is not celebrated as the day that slavery was ended in the United States, as for a further two years, many white enslavers in the south refused to give up free peoples whom they still deemed as property. It was not for a further two years that the final enslaved African Americans were freed from a plantation in Texas, on 19th June 1865.

The day is one of the momentous in the American calendar, and the decision for Trump to hold a rally on this day during the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests shows either a catastrophic lack of historical knowledge or contempt for African Americans. Trump has recently said that the original date for the rally was not chosen on purpose to be on Juneteenth and has moved the rally to 20 June.

His decision to hold the rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma is equally controversial; a city steeped in the racism that has haunted American history. In 1921, Tulsa served as the centre of what was perhaps the worst race riot in American history.

In Tulsa, a thriving, self-contained African American community called Greenwood – often known as the ‘black Wall Street’ – was turned into a hotbed of violence. A young African American man was accused of assaulting a white woman, with the white population of Tulsa attacking the black community within the city, burning Greenwood to the ground.

Historians estimated between 300-500 people were killed and many thousands were left homeless; many African Americans were placed in internment camps to prevent them from retaliating against the perpetrators, despite being brutalised by the white community.

History sought to whitewash the events of Tulsa, with the African Americans blamed for decades for the violence that erupted.

The decision for the president – who has often been accused of dog-whistle white supremacy – to hold the rally on this day, in this city, is not just deeply controversial but could appear as a deliberate and systematic attempt to attack the Black Lives Matter movement.

Juneteenth comes less than a month after the killing of George Floyd and is likely to only further fan the flames of tension throughout the United States.

Following days of backlash against the rally, the president pushed the event back to 20th June, yet the intention to hold it on such a momentous day, in such an important city, cannot be understated.

As African Americans celebrate Juneteenth, it is a vital time to learn about the history of racism in the United States. The events of Tulsa in 1921 occurred during the height of the Ku Klux Klan and against a backdrop of similar events across the United States; to understand the modern legacies of American history, it is vital to learn about what happened.

Skip to content