Republican Sen. James Lankford, Okla., wrote a letter Thursday apologizing to Black constituents for not realizing how his efforts to contest election results would be perceived.
In a letter addressed to “My friends in North Tulsa,” the senator said he deeply regrets his “blindness” to how his election challenges could be perceived by the Black community– as a “direct attack on their right to vote.”
Last month Lankford announced he would take part in an effort led by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to vote against the Electoral College results and call for a 10-day audit to assess voter fraud.
He backed down from contesting after rioters stormed the Capitol last week.
“It was never my intention to disenfranchise any voter or state,” the senator wrote. “It was my intention to resolve any outstanding questions before the inauguration on Jan. 20.”
“But my action of asking for more election information caused a firestorm of suspicion among many of my friends, particularly among Black communities around the state,” he said, adding that he was “completely blindsided” by the response.
“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,” he wrote.
“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 continued.
Lankford noted the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, pointing to areas of improvement since the tragedy but noting “opportunity and investment gaps remain.”
Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, mobs of armed White residents attacked Black Tulsans and their businesses in the Greenwood District, which at the time was the wealthiest Black community in the country. The death toll is not clear, but historians believe as many as 300 may have been murdered.
“There is also too little cultural understanding between people of different races in the communities of Oklahoma, which is something I was reminded of just last week,” Lanford said.
Several Black leaders in Tulsa have called for Lankford’s expulsion or removal from the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Committee due to his efforts to contest election results this week. Lankford said at the time that after speaking with Black leaders he’d come to understand why his efforts could be seen as Black voter disenfranchisement.
“I was shocked [when Black friends] said to me, ‘This was about keeping African Americans from voting.’ My comment to them was, ‘That never crossed my mind. Why would I do that? Why would I think that?’” he told Tulsa World.
“I’ve had some time now to visit with them and to hear them out, and I understand where they’re coming from,” Lankford said.
“Some people caught me and said, ‘Let me describe it to you this way’ — and they were spot on with this — ‘You hear the president say, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania are problems. We hear the president say, Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia are problems.’
“And I said, ‘You’re exactly correct. I hear what you’re saying now.’”
“I can assure you, my intent to give a voice to Oklahomans who had questions was never also an intent to diminish the voice of any Black American. I should have recognized how what I said and what I did could be interpreted by many of you,” he concluded in his letter. “I deeply regret my blindness to that perception, and for that I am sorry.”