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Race Massacre Centennial Commission Gives Stitt Ultimatum Over Law On Teaching About Race

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission has told Gov. Kevin Stitt it will consider him to have resigned as a member if he doesn’t respond to their invitation to discuss his signing of a bill Republicans have pushed as a ban on teaching critical race theory. 

The commission urged Stitt to veto House Bill 1775, which prohibits teaching concepts like a student should feel guilty for historical events because of their race or sex. In a letter signed by Project Director Phil Armstrong, the commission said the new law will intimidate teachers who want to explore the underlying causes of the massacre and is "diametrically opposed" to their mission.

The commission also chastised Stitt for not responding to an invitation to meet with them Monday night and closed by saying if he did not respond, they’d consider that his resignation.

In a statement, Stitt's office said he and First Lady Sarah Stitt are committed to reconciliation and healing in Greenwood, and it’s disappointing some commissioners think HB1775 is contrary to their mission of reconciliation and restoration. Stitt maintains HB1775 is a "common-sense law" that prohibits teaching one race or sex is superior to another.

"The governor believes that any other interpretation of this legislation is misguided and fundamentally inaccurate, and that position was expressed to the Centennial Commission before the bill was signed into law," the governor's office said.

In a separate news conference Tuesday, advocates for reparations for massacre victims and their descendants suggested white members’ politics pushed the commission to be more focused on tourism than supporting survivors. Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said he knows there are commissioners who want justice and accountability.

"And we were trying to make sure to create a space for them so we could stand together to make sure these three living survivors and [their] descendants get justice, but it just didn’t happen. And now we know why. Because the Stitts and the Bynums and the Lankfords, their voice won out," Solomon-Simmons said.

Solomon-Simmons reiterated demands for the centennial commission to distribute funds to survivors and descendants, and for a portion of revenue from the Greenwood Rising history center to go toward their benefit. He also added massacre survivors and descendants ought to be the majority of the center's board and that any other members should be proven advocates for the Black community.

"It feels a lot like this commission and others in this community are allowing for them to monetize making a mockery of the massacre. All I can say to you is from a family perspective, it’s extremely traumatic. It’s extremely traumatic," said Teddi Williams, the granddaughter of survivor Wess Young. Young died in 2014.

Meanwhile, Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) tweeted his resignation from the commission on Tuesday, saying the governor has cast "an ugly shadow" over five years of good work.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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