The Black Lives Matter mural painted on Greenwood Ave. was painted over by Tulsa city officials between 3 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. on Monday Oct. 5. The mural was painted in the historic Black Wall Street district two days before President Donald Trump came to Tulsa for his controversial rally on June 20. At the end of July, Tulsa city councilors determined that the street mural had been done illegally, having been painted on public, rather than private, property. Although the removal of the mural was slated to happen in 2021, the timeline was moved up to occur almost six months early.
Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Swiney argued the illegality of the mural, stating that “There really isn’t anything in our laws that makes a street into a canvas to convey a message or essentially make a sign out of a street surface.” Tulsa’s City Council met to discuss the BLM mural in July following requests from others, like the pro-police group Back the Blue Tulsa, to create a comparable mural supporting Tulsa law enforcement. Councilor Connie Dodson cited this as a main determining factor in the decision to remove the BLM mural, applauding its message but pointing out concern that “if you allow one, then you have to allow all of them.”
Preceding Trump’s visit to Tulsa for the first of his 2020 campaign rallies, Tulsa had seen an uprising of protestors supporting the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd. Trump’s visit was particularly controversial as it had initially been scheduled to take place on Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Following a call to move the date of the rally, Trump visited Tulsa the day after Juneteenth on June 20.
The Black Lives Matter mural became a way to both celebrate Juneteenth and express dismay at the president’s response to global calls for increased police accountability. Ryan Rhoades, who was involved in organizing artists to paint the mural, told KOKI-TV that while he expected the mural to be removed, it had already served its purpose having been displayed during Juneteenth and during Trump’s time in Tulsa.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum commented on the mural’s removal, saying “I fully support the display of this message on private property, as has already been done without controversy in a number of locations around the city.” Despite the illegality of the street painting, Tulsa’s only Black city councilor, Vanessa Hall-Harper commented “And so Tulsa is the only major city in this country that said we have to remove it, as opposed to standing on the right side of history and saying, ‘This issue was more important than that.’”
Several negotiations took place to find potential ways to keep the mural in its place. The Mayor’s Office commented that Bynum had approached the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce asking them to take ownership of the street, but said they declined. However, C.J. Weber-Neal, the president of the Greenwood Arts & Cultural Society claims he had contacted the Mayor’s Office asking for the organization to take ownership of the street and mural, but got no reply.
Many have criticized the remarkable speed with which city officials moved in painting over the sign, which took place overnight and significantly sooner than was initially planned. Bynum commented on this timeline, claiming, “The project was started at this time so it could proceed without interference,” He went on to point out, “This is a lawful street project, conducted in a way to minimize disruption for the workers and adjacent businesses.” Despite the removal of the mural, proponents like Councilor Hall-Harper have spoken about their hopes for finding a way to create a permanent Black Lives Matter display in the Greenwood District.