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Gov. Stitt responds to letter from Tulsa Race Massacre Commission

Kevin Stitt
Posted at 2:16 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 23:41:42-04

TULSA, Okla. — Gov. Kevin Stitt responded to a letter from the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission on Tuesday.

The commission issued Stitt a letter after he did not join a special meeting Monday night to discuss the signing of House Bill 1775 into law last week. The legislation prohibits state public schools, colleges, and universities from incorporating certain messages about sex and race into any course instruction.

READ MORE: Gov. Stitt signs bill limiting race, gender curriculums in Oklahoma schools

Phil Armstrong, the project director of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, said 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. You know that. We delivered this message to you before you signed the measure. We were joined by educators, school boards, universities, faith, and community leaders, all of whom vigorously objected to HB 1775. You seemingly disregarded and dismissed this chorus of voices aligned against HB 1775."

The letter goes on to say signing the bill shows that Stitt no longer wants to be affiliated with the commission and if he does not respond they will consider it his resignation.

READ FULL LETTER:

Dear Governor Stitt:

We are gravely disappointed that neither you nor your representative chose to join the special meeting of the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission (“Centennial Commission”) last night to discuss the signing of HB 1775 into law. Indeed, your office failed to even extend the courtesy of a reply to the Centennial Commission’s invitation.

As a Centennial Commission member, surely you know that the vigorous exchange of ideas through education lies at the heart of our mission. Telling the story of 1921 requires confronting and sharing the facts about this horrific period in Oklahoma’s and Tulsa’s history. It also demands an exploration of the underlying causative factors.

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. You know that. We delivered this message to you before you signed the measure. We were joined by educators, school boards, universities, faith, and community leaders, all of whom vigorously objected to HB 1775. You seemingly disregarded and dismissed this chorus of voices aligned against HB 1775.

In your public address last week you stated, “We need policies that bring us together, not rip us apart,” and described HB 1775 as a bill that “encourages honest and tough conversations” by codifying the concepts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 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 has shared nationally and internationally the unvarnished and difficult truth about 1921. Our community and state will be stronger for telling the story through the lens of those whose lives were lost or forever changed because of racism, hatred, and violence. It has been our collective mission to offer a path for repairing that which was destroyed.

The Centennial Commission feels that your signature on the bill at this critical time when Oklahoma should embrace its history is diametrically opposite to the mission of the Centennial Commission and reflects your desire to end your affiliation. If you would like to contact us to discuss this further, please do so immediately. If we do not hear back from you, we will consider your lack of response as a further disavowal of the stated goals of the Centennial Commission and an official resignation from its membership.
Phil Armstrong, Project Director of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission

The governor's office released the following statement:

Governor Stitt and the First Lady both strongly support reconciliation, healing and the rebirth of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, and have worked with the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission on multiple productive events.

While it has become clear that Mr. Armstrong does not speak for the entire Centennial Commission, it is disappointing that some commission members feel that a common-sense law preventing students from being taught that one race or sex is superior to another is contrary to the mission of reconciliation and restoration.

Governor Stitt issued Executive Order 2021-12 as a signing statement to expressly direct that the Tulsa Race Massacre, and all historical events included in the Oklahoma Academic Standards, must still be taught in our schools. 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 Greenwood Arts & Cultural Society, INC. has also called for the governor's resignation as an honorable commissioner of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission due to signing the bill into law.

READ MORE: Greenwood Arts & Cultural Society, INC. calls for Gov. Stitt to resign from Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission

The drama between the governor and Centennial Commission led commission member, State Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) to resign Tuesday. Nichols said he didn't want his conflict with the governor to detract from the commission's work.

In a letter, Nichols said Gov. Stitt cast an "ugly shadow" over the work the commission did the past five years with the signing of HB 1775. The letter also said, "My resignation, while done on principled differences, should not be seen as a referendum on your leadership or the work of the commission."

You can read Rep. Nichols full letter here.


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