In Greenwood, music is playing, families are gathering; volunteers are handing out free bottled water and fruit. Standing in the shade near the Black Wall Street massacre memorial, Adam Crawford, 24, stood with a shotgun over his shoulder, watching a growing and light-hearted crowd gather across the street from the Vernon AME Church.
Crawford is part of a private security team of about a half dozen here to protect the church. A self-described Army brat and a welder, he moved to Tulsa three years ago and said he fell in love with the community. He described the Juneteenth celebration yesterday on this same spot as joyous. Now, he’s watchful, alert. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’m staying right here to protect this land.”
Sharon Erby, a 59-year-old native of the neighborhood, sat with friends under a Chinese maple across from the church, which was set ablaze during the 1921 massacre of black residents by a white mob. Spread in front of her was a field of makeshift signs written with marker on white poster board, with messages like “DIVEST IN POLICE INVEST IN PUBLIC HEALTH.”
Erby and her friends arrived at 10 a.m. with no plan in mind other to continue to celebrate Juneteenth, a celebration of freedom from slavery. Soon, they found themselves in the church social hall, writing up the signs.
“These are expressions of what people feeling,” Erby said. “This is what was in their hearts.”
Sitting in the shade next to her, Cassandra Cozart, 58, leaned in to clarify: “It’s cause we don’t want Donald Trump here.”
They stuck the signs in the yard across the street from the church, which bears a large memorial plaque, akin to those erected for those killed in foreign wars, with the names of the dead from the race massacre. This morning, Erby and other volunteers draped that large stone slab in a tarp and taped across it a sign reading: “This is not a photo-op. This is sacred ground.”
Erby says her group covered it up this morning “to prevent Trump supporters from coming up here and taking pictures of our monuments and take a part of our history when they don’t want to be a part of it.” Volunteers also blacked out swaths of the Black Wall Street mural that adorns part of the overpass retaining wall, a popular spot for selfies.
At the church, the pastor Robert Turner worked in his office behind locked doors guarded by a small cadre of private security with semiautomatic weapons. “This church is basically the last thing left on Greenwood Avenue,” Turner said. “With Trump coming to town, I don’t want to let any of that neo-Confederate crowd coming to finish the job.”
State Sen. Kevin Matthews, who represents the Greenwood area of Tulsa, said that Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt originally invited the president to visit Greenwood on his trip to Tulsa, when the rally was scheduled for Friday, the celebration of Juneteenth. Matthews was asked to host the president.
The president would have visited OneOK Field, home to the minor league Tulsa Drillers, and the future site of Living Greenwood, a proposed museum and educational center focused on the massacre and Black Wall Street. “I had a talk with the governor that would not be a good idea,” Matthews said in an interview.
“Greenwood would have to be shut down,” Matthews said. “It was disruptive for the Juneteenth event.”