Tulsa Mayor Delays Mural Potential Removal, Chamber Officials Demands City Protect It

Wednesday, August 5th 2020, 5:20 pm
By: Emory Bryan

TULSA, Okla. -

The Tulsa City Council might come up with a way to allow the ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural to remain on Greenwood Avenue.

The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce rejected a suggestion they preserve the "Black Lives Matter" mural on Greenwood Avenue, instead demanding the city protect and maintain it.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mayor G.T. Bynum's office announced the mural would remain at least another two weeks while the City Council considers alternatives to removing it. 

Chamber President Freeman Culver said the city should "refrain from removing or altering the writing as it is an appropriate message to have at the location of the 1921 Race Massacre. While the lettering is historically important to many in the community, the responsibility of maintaining the street and the lettering should not fall upon the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce."

On Tuesday, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum emailed a proposed agreement to the Chamber that would have them maintaining the mural, and take on liability for any issues that come out of it. Freeman speculated the maintenance costs for the street would be $20,000 every couple of years. The agreement would require City Council approval and took the form of a license agreement that allows changes to public property at private expense, including maintenance.

Last week, the City Council decided not to create a process to issue permits for painting messages on streets, and this week is seeking a solution to allow this one, and just this one. The city still plans to remove the paint from Greenwood Avenue, unless something changes that would allow it to stay.

The City Council discussed having the mural remain as an element of the "Main Street" program, or by declaring Greenwood a "Destination District," with distinct zoning that could allow for painted streets. The city has no existing permit that allows painted messages on streets, and the BLM mural was created without City approval. Activists painted it overnight, while the street was blocked for a "Juneteenth" celebration planned to counter the campaign rally for President Trump.

Councilors Vanessa Hall-Harper and Kara Joy McKee led the discussion of alternatives that could preserve it, but Council Attorney Mark Swiney said the complexities of the both programs required research to see if they allowed the exceptions. Several Councilors reiterated they did not want to open up other streets to other messages, which is what the city lawyers have said will happen.

The Greenwood Chamber suggested instead of offering that the Chamber take on an expense it cannot afford, the City instead should focus on repairing streets. 

"The sidewalks are in poor repair and endanger the safety of visitors to the Greenwood District. The City of Tulsa needs to step up and maintain the public streets and sidewalks in this important and historic area of Tulsa." 

The City Council will discuss the BLM mural again on Wednesday, August 19.