“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump told the Journal in an interview Wednesday, referencing the news coverage of the planned rally that was moved to a later date. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
Trump was widely criticized for scheduling the rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Okla., the site of one of the bloodiest acts of racial violence in 1921, with many critics charging that it was a racially insensitive decision.
Trump eventually postponed the rally, acknowledging “many” of his African American friends and supporters had reached out asking him to change the date.
Juneteenth has been a day to mark the end of slavery in the United States for more than 150 years and is recognized as a holiday in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Trump told the Journal that a black Secret Service agent informed him of the meaning of Juneteenth. He also claimed he polled those around him and none had heard of the annual holiday. Trump was surprised to learn from an aide during the interview with the Journal that the White House put out a statement marking the occasion last year.
“Oh, really? We put out a statement? The Trump White House put out a statement?” Trump said. “OK, OK. Good.”
Trump’s Tulsa rally is scheduled to take place on Saturday evening, marking his first campaign rally since March. It is expected to draw a substantial crowd to Tulsa’s BOK Center, raising concerns about the potential for the event to spread the novel coronavirus. The campaign plans to conduct temperature checks and distribute masks and hand sanitizer to attendees.
The Trump campaign’s announcement of the rally coincided with nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. Trump’s handling of and rhetoric on the demonstrations has also come under sustained scrutiny in recent weeks.
Trump, who signed an executive order Tuesday to incentivize police reform, acknowledged in the Journal interview that there is “some” systemic racism in the United States but asserted that the country had made substantial progress in rooting out racism from its institutions.
“I’d like to think there is not” systemic racism, Trump told the Journal. “But unfortunately, there probably is some. I would also say it’s very substantially less than it used to be.”