Oklahoma senator steps down from Tulsa Race Massacre commission days before 100th anniversary

Mid-South

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 12: Senator James Lankford (R-OK) attends a news conference on the U.S. Southern Border and President Joe Biden’s immigration policies, in the Hart Senate Office Building on May 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will testify on May 13 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the DHS treatment of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. Southern border. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — In a surprise move, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford has stepped down from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.

Officials say Lankford stepped down from the commission shortly before the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

In a statement to SBGTV, Lankford’s office said that he didn’t support the path the commission was taking.

“Lankford saw a drift from the original goals of the Commission to a more partisan political agenda, and as a result, he notified the Commission he could no longer serve as a member,” the statement read.

This comes just months after he faced criticism and calls to step down from the commission due to his plans regarding a challenge to President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

In January, Lankford said that he was planning to challenge the Electoral College votes because he wanted a commission to be formed to provide a 10-day audit of former President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

However, those claims have been debunked multiple times in courts across the country and even at the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the day of the insurrection, Lankford was speaking on the floor when lawmakers were instructed to leave and head to safe locations in the Capitol. They soon learned that the Capitol had been breached by a violent mob of pro-Trump supporters.

When Lankford was able to resume his comments on the floor, he said he would no longer challenge the results.

FILE - Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., speaks a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/New York Times, Pool via AP)
FILE – Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., speaks a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/New York Times, Pool via AP)

“In Oklahoma, we would say, ‘Why in God’s name would someone think attacking law enforcement and occupying the U.S. Capitol is the best way in showing you are right?’” Lankford said

He then encouraged Congress to come together and certify the election results.

“We must stand together as Americans. We must defend our Constitution and the rule of law,” Sen. James Lankford said in a statement.

After the vote, Black leaders in Tulsa called for Lankford’s removal or resignation from the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Committee, according to the Tulsa World.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre, Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

Organizers said they felt that Lankford’s support for the false claims provided credence to those who have consistently worked to prevent Black voices from being heard.

“This is a great example of Black people voting in record numbers, with a coalition of people who look different, who are being told, ‘No, their votes didn’t count,’” said state Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa.

Lankford apologized to Black constituents, saying he didn’t realize that his criticism of the Electoral College votes could have a racial undertone.

Lankford says he had no idea that people would view his actions as questioning the legitimacy of Black voters.

“What I did not realize was all of the national conversation about states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, was seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit,” said Lankford at the time.

“After decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote, for their vote to matter, and even a belief that their votes made an election in our country illegitimate,” he wrote.

Lankford said it was never his intent to take away the voice of any Black American. Despite that apology, some in the community still called for Lankford’s resignation.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre. Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

In January, the Centennial Commission released a statement, saying that Lankford would remain a member of the organization.

“At its core, the Centennial Commission is about reconciliation. For the purpose of achieving that
goal, we must continue to harness our connective tissue – even when we are not in absolute
agreement. Senator Lankford, despite clear differences (some of them profound), stands on
common ground with us in terms of the importance of reconciliation as well as educating all United States citizens about Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District, the storied “Black Wall Street,” including the massacre and its impact on Oklahoma and the nation.

The Centennial Commission believes deeply in racial reconciliation and inter-generational healing. To that end, we must continue to extend an olive branch. It is our inherent duty to show our partners the way.

For those reasons, we choose not to request Senator Lankford’s removal from the Centennial
Commission, but instead, accept his apology and embrace his desire to reaffirm his commitment to help bring vital resources and opportunities to the Greenwood District, Black Tulsans, and Black Americans from coast to coast.”

Centennial Commission

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