‘Black Lives Matter’ mural on Greenwood will have to be removed, Tulsa city councilors say

Black Lives Matter mural to be removed from downtown Tulsa

TULSA, Okla. — A “Black Lives Matter” mural will have to be removed from the street surface in Tulsa’s Greenwood District.

Tulsa city councilors were briefed Wednesday that if they let the BLM mural stay on the street surface then they will have to allow any group wanting to express themselves on city streets to write their own messages as long as they are not sexually explicit or inciting violence. Federal traffic laws also prohibit such markings on public streets as a safety issue.

Councilors started receiving requests from a group known as “Back The Blue” who wanted to paint just as large of a message in support of the Tulsa Police Department.

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The Black Lives Matter message appeared around the time of President Donald Trump’s visit to Tulsa and was clearly seen from the air as Air Force One flew over downtown Tulsa, and was put up at the same time as other cities were seeing similar street paintings on their roadways.

July 29, 2020 - Tulsa's city council plans to debate the future of the 'Black Lives Matter' mural on Greenwood.
July 29, 2020 - Tulsa's city council plans to debate the future of the 'Black Lives Matter' mural on Greenwood. (FOX23)

The painting was never permitted, and when Tulsa police asked the artists about the message they were told it was a chalk-like material that would wash away when it rained next. It was not, and it has not.

Tulsa’s streets and stormwater division, however, has been told not to touch with the large message until city councilors and the mayor has weighed in on its future.

The message was widely welcomed in the Greenwood District which is the area of town devastated during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and nearby businesses support the painting.

However, councilors agreed that if one group was allowed to use street surfaces as a place to display messages, then every group who has an opinion would have to have the right to paint on city streets.

Some councilors specifically stated the removal had nothing to do with race, and they pointed to when the downtown Equality Center wanted to paint a rainbow crosswalk on the street in front of the building and was denied.

In return for not getting to paint the street, a section of the street near Oklahomans for Equality was unofficially re-named Pride Street with rainbow street signs, and OKEQ has since painted a large colorful mural on the side of its building to express their beliefs.

Other groups, including BLM, are being encouraged to find similar routes.

FOX23 spoke to one of the artists Ryan Rhoades who said he was not surprised at the decision to remove the message after other groups began demanding their own street space for other messages.

Rhoades said when the painters bought the supplies, they were told it would wash away when it rained, but it did not.

He said between is being up for Juneteenth and Trump's visit, the mural has served its purpose.

The group of people who painted the message told FOX23 they looked into removing the message earlier this month, and they were quoted by a company willing to do the removal for a hearty price they could not afford.

Because the buildings in Greenwood have flat rooftops, there is talk about moving the message to the tops of buildings where it will still be prominently seen from I-244 and the air.