The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission removed Gov. Kevin Stitt from the panel just days after he had signed a bill that banned the teaching of certain concepts about race.,
Tulsa Race Massacre Commission Ousts Oklahoma Governor
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission removed Gov. Kevin Stitt from the panel just days after he had signed a bill that banned the teaching of certain concepts about race.
On Friday, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission said it had parted ways with Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma.Credit…Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma has been ousted from a commission set up to commemorate the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, just days after he signed legislation that commission members said would undermine their goal of teaching the state’s painful history of racial discrimination.
In a statement on Friday, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission said its members had met on Tuesday and had “agreed through consensus to part ways” with Mr. Stitt, a Republican. The statement did not offer a reason but said that no elected officials or representatives of elected officials had been involved in the decision.
“While the Commission is disheartened to part ways with Governor Stitt, we are thankful for the things accomplished together,” the statement said. “The Commission remains focused on lifting up the story of Black Wall Street and commemorating the Centennial.”
Carly Atchison, a spokeswoman for Mr. Stitt, did not immediately respond to an email message on Friday seeking comment. She told The Associated Press that the governor had learned of his removal from the commission only when the panel issued its statement. She said that the governor’s role had been “purely ceremonial, and he had not been invited to attend a meeting until this week.”
Mr. Stitt was removed from the commission after he signed legislation on May 7 that would ban the teaching of certain concepts about race in Oklahoma schools, a measure that was seen as part of a larger conservative backlash to the teaching of “critical race theory.”
Commission members had vocally opposed the legislation, and one of them, State Representative Monroe Nichols, resigned from the panel on Tuesday, saying the governor’s signing of the bill had “cast an ugly shadow on the phenomenal work done during the last five years.”
“Governor Stitt has chosen to align himself with folks who want to rewrite or prohibit the full intellectual exploration of our history, which is in direct conflict with the spirit of the commission I joined several years ago,” Mr. Nichols, a Democrat, wrote in his resignation letter.
Phil Armstrong, the project director of the Centennial Commission, had also criticized the legislation, writing in a letter to Mr. Stitt that it “chills the ability of educators to teach students, of any age, and will only serve to intimidate educators who seek to reveal and process our hidden history.”
“How do you reconcile your membership on the Centennial Commission with your support of a law that is fundamentally contrary to the mission of reconciliation and restoration?” Mr. Armstrong wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday.
The law bans Oklahoma teachers and school administrators from requiring or making part of a course a number of concepts about race. The banned concepts include the notion that any person “by virtue of his or her race or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
It also bans teaching of the concepts that a person, “by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex” and that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”
The law also says that students in Oklahoma’s public higher education system cannot be required to engage “in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling.”
“Now, more than ever, we need policies that bring us together — not rip us apart,” Mr. Stitt said in a videotaped statement explaining his signing of the bill. “As governor, I firmly believe that not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.”
He added that the bill endorsed the teaching of the state’s academic standards, which were written by Oklahoma educators, and include events like the Tulsa race massacre, the emergence of Black Wall Street, Oklahoma City lunch counter sit-ins and the Trail of Tears.
“We can and should teach this history without labeling a young child as an oppressor or requiring he or she feel guilt or shame, based on their race or sex,” Mr. Stitt said.
The Centennial Commission was formed in 2015 to commemorate and educate residents about the 1921 massacre, in which white mobs slaughtered Black residents in Tulsa and destroyed a prosperous Black business district, known as Black Wall Street.
As many as 300 Black people were killed and more than 1,200 homes were destroyed. Members of the Oklahoma National Guard arrested Black victims instead of white looters. Photos taken at the time show Black people being marched down the street at gunpoint, their arms raised over their heads.