June is a significant month in African American history. And it has to do with more than Juneteenth.

June 19th, 2024 by Tom Lynch

Today is Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday on 17 June 2021 when President Joe Biden signed into law Juneteenth National Independence Day, making it the 12th federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates 19 June 1865, the date Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and delivered General Order No. 3 announcing the end of legalized slavery in Texas.

Although the war was over with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House two months earlier, Lee’s surrender was ignored in  Texas where many plantation owners refused to acknowledge it and vowed never to “release” their enslaved workers from bondage.

A week before Granger’s arrival, a brigade of the 25th Army Corps, comprised of more than 1,000 African-descendant soldiers, arrived in Galveston and captured the city. They chased the rebel government and the remaining Confederate soldiers into Mexico. The Black soldiers of the 25th Army Corps also spread the word about freedom to the enslaved Texas population.

When General Granger arrived with General Order No. 3, plantation owners were forced to read it to their enslaved men, women and children. Thus was born Juneteenth, which was first celebrated exactly one year after the final freeing of the last slaves in America. Fittingly, in 1980, Texas became the first state to promulgate Juneteenth as a state holiday. Eventually another forty-six followed, ultimately leading to Biden’s 2021 federal holiday promulgation.

I was reminded of this history this morning when I remembered that Donald Trump had, in an instance of impeccable timing, scheduled one of his wild and crazy rallies back in 2020 on Juneteenth. According to the Associated Press, Trump was unaware of Juneteenth, let alone the significance of it to the Black community, when he announced his rally’s date. Consequently, he did not anticipate the blowback he would get. But get it he did. Even from his own supporters.  In a rare instance of backing down, he moved the rally to the next day, the 20th, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Having insulted the Black community with the date, Trump added further insult with the place — Tulsa.

For in African American history, Tulsa has a special place. On another day in June, the 1st June day of 1921, Tulsa was the site of the worst race massacre in American history.

The day before, police had arrested a young black man by the name of Dick Rowland for allegedly attacking a white woman in a Tulsa elevator. Soon after Rowland’s arrest, rumors began to spread about a group of whites planning a lynching party. To protect Rowland, African American World War 1 veterans surrounded the jail holding him. There was a standoff with a mob of whites. Somebody fired a shot, and a firefight ensued. The much larger white mob pushed the black vets all the way to Greenwood, Tulsa’s Black section.

Greenwood was the wealthiest Black neighborhood in the country. Oil had made it rich. Racism was about to destroy it. Over the course of the day, 6,000 homes and businesses and 36 square city blocks were turned to ash. Pilots of two airplanes dropped turpentine bombs on buildings, instantly igniting them. Three hundred African Americans were slaughtered, most thrown into mass graves. Not a soul was ever prosecuted for anything. Then Tulsa, population 100,000, swept it all under the rug. Two generations later nobody knew a thing about it. It was never taught in schools, no books were written, no oral history passed down. It was as if it never happened.

Tulsa’s current mayor, G. T. Bynum, wants to take the rug up to see what’s hiding under it. He’s committed to investigating what happened and determining accountability. He thinks he’s found a couple of the mass graves and is having them excavated. The goal is to at least identify as many victims as possible through DNA analysis.

Bynum also formed the City of Tulsa 1921 Graves Investigation Office, convened experts to help locate, identify and connect people today with those who were lost more than 100 years ago, and established the 1921 Graves Press Room to report on the effort.

In 2021, on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, President Biden, in an emotional speech in that city, said  he had “come to fill the silence” about one of the nation’s darkest — and long suppressed — moments of racial violence.

“Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they cannot be buried, no matter how hard people try,” Biden said. “Only with truth can come healing.”

As far as I have been able to document, Donald Trump has yet to say one word in public about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. And what has he said about Juneteenth? Four years ago he denigrated it, saying, ‘nobody had ever heard of it’ before, despite it being celebrated by African Americans for 158 years. This year he has said nothing, although Janiyah Thomas, the Trump campaign’s director of Black media, did issue a statement commemorating the day, saying, “Today, we reflect on how far we [have] come as a nation and remember that light will always triumph over darkness. With President Trump’s leadership, our party will continue to advance the American dream for all people.”

If you believe that, I have some prime, Grade A land in Florida I would like to sell you — just as soon as the tide goes out.