In 1980, Ronald Reagan kicked off his campaign for president at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi. The setting was perfect. The fair was a popular stop for Democratic presidential candidates and just seven miles away was the small industrial city of Philadelphia, MS where Reagan was hoping to attract union votes away from the Democrats.
But somebody figured out that Philadelphia, MS was near the spot where three civil rights workers were murdered. And Reagan’s speech — a rather innocuous lecture on states’ rights — didn’t please the racialists of the time. So every newspaper and nightly newscast opened with Reagan making a speech on the spot where 3 civil rights workers were murdered by southern racists.
Was it a dog whistle to racists? Talking about states’ rights seven miles from a city where civil rights workers were killed? It was, because Reagan’s political opponents wanted it to be. Law professor Eugene Volokh points out, “Unfortunately, it would be difficult to find many places in Alabama or Mississippi which are not within seven miles of the scene of some infamous past act of racial violence, such as a lynching.”
Ain’t it the truth.
Donald Trump is going to Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 19th to restart his campaign for president. But June 19 is also known as “Juneteenth” — the day that news of Emancipation reached Texas in 1865. And Tulsa is the site of a horrific attack on a black neighborhood known as the “Black Wall Street” from May 31 to June 1, 1921. Klansmen and their white supporters killed dozens of black men, women, and children. A depiction of the massacre was in the opening episode of HBO’s now-canceled series, The Watchmen.
So, of course, Trump is going to Tulsa on a different date from the Klan-led massacre, in a different state from Juneteenth’s origins, to blow a dog whistle for his racist supporters, right?
Well, gee…what else could it be?
“This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists — he’s throwing them a welcome home party,” Harris, a leading contender to be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, tweeted of Trump’s rally plans.
“To choose the date, to come to Tulsa, is totally disrespectful and a slap in the face to even happen,” said Sherry Gamble Smith, president of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce, an organization named after the prosperous black community that white Oklahomans burned down in the 1921 attack.
At a minimum, Gamble Smith said, the campaign should “change it to Saturday the 20th, if they’re going to have it.”
The Trump campaign was aware of the significance of the date but decided to go ahead anyway. And it’s almost certain Trump will acknowledge the importance of June 19 in his speech.
Trump campaign officials defended the rally.
“As the party of Lincoln, Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth,” said Katrina Pierson, senior adviser to the Trump campaign. “President Trump has built a record of success for Black Americans, including unprecedented low unemployment prior to the global pandemic, all-time high funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and criminal justice reform.”
There was some concern in the campaign about blowback but the decision to hold the rally in Tulsa made a lot of sense. Oklahoma will be reliably Republican in November and Trump is guaranteed a huge, enthusiastic crowd. Also, Joe Biden held a fundraiser on Junetenth last year, so it’s not like the date is sacred or a holy day of obligation.
The blow-up is just another effort by Democrats and their media activists to goose their black supporters into turnout out against Trump and the Republicans.