- Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday was ousted from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.
- Stitt said his role on the commission was “purely ceremonial” and criticized the move.
- The governor’s removal comes on the heels of his support of legislation banning “critical race theory” in public schools.
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Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma on Friday was ousted from a commission created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, days after he signed legislation that would ban the teaching of some race and racism concepts in public schools.
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, in a statement released on Friday, said that its members met and decided “to part ways” with Stitt, who was elected as governor in 2018. The statement did not cite a specific reason for the decision.
“While the Commission is disheartened to part ways with Governor Stitt, we are thankful for the things accomplished together,” the statement read. “The Commission remains focused on lifting up the story of Black Wall Street and commemorating the Centennial.”
It added: “No elected officials, nor representatives of elected officials, were involved in this decision.”
Stitt’s office said that the governor learned of his ouster only after the statement was released and described his membership on the commission as “purely ceremonial.”
“It is disappointing to see an organization of such importance spend so much effort to sow division based on falsehoods and political rhetoric two weeks before the centennial and a month before the commission is scheduled to sunset,” read a statement from the governor’s office. “The governor and first lady will continue to support the revitalization of the Greenwood District, honest conversations about racial reconciliation and pathways of hope in Oklahoma.”
The division with Stitt came from his support of HB 1775, which is designed to prevent the teaching of “critical race theory,” which seeks to examine the legacy of systemic racism in the US.
Conservatives have argued that the subject matter would teach white children that they are inherently racist.
The law bans any instruction of the concept 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,” and stipulates that college students cannot be required to engage in “mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling.”
Stitt has defended his decision to sign the bill.
“Now more than ever, we need policies that bring us together, not rip us apart,” he said earlier this month. “Not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.”
Phil Armstrong, the project director of the Centennial Commission, in a separate letter blasted Stitt for his support of the legislation.
“HB 1775 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,” he wrote. “You know that. You seemingly disregarded and dismissed this chorus of voices aligned against HB 1775.”
He added: “How does this law bring us together and codify the concepts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? 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?”
The Centennial Commission was formed in 2015 to teach citizens about the 1921 massacre, in which white mobs descended on the prosperous Greenwood district in Tulsa known as “Black Wall Street,” killing as many as 300 Black citizens and wounding over 800 people.
Roughly 35 square blocks of Black-owned businesses and homes were destroyed, according to the Tulsa World.
During the massacre, members of the Oklahoma National Guard arrested Black victims, leaving white looters to pillage the neighborhood that once boasted one of the highest concentrations of Black wealth in the country.