Joe Biden on Tuesday becomes the first sitting president of the United States to visit the site in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where hundreds of Black Americans were killed by a white crowd in 1921, saying the United States must learn from one of the worst racist episodes . violence in the country’s history.
The Democrat tagged the centenary of the massacre by meeting the few survivors of the violence.
“It was not a riot, it was a massacre,” Biden said in a speech to survivors and their descendants. ‘(It was) one of the worst in our history – but not the only one, and forgotten for too long by our history.
“Once that happened, there was a clear attempt to erase it from our collective memories … the schools in Tulsa did not even learn it for a long time, let alone schools elsewhere.”
White residents of Tulsa shot dead up to 300 Black people on May 31 and June 1, 1921, and burned and looted homes and businesses after a white woman accused a Black man of assault, an allegation that was never proven.
The rampage devastated the African-American community of Greenwood, so prosperous at the time that it was called Black Wall Street. Historians say early 10,000 people were left homeless.
Insurance companies did not cover the damage and no one was charged with the violence.
Biden said the legacy of racist violence and white supremacy continued to resonate in the US.
“We have to know the good, the bad, everything. That is what great nations are doing, ”he said. ‘They correspond to their dark sides. And we are a great nation. ‘
Biden said the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and attempts by a number of states to restrict voting rights were an echo of the same problem.
“What happened in Greenwood was an act of hatred and domestic terrorism, with a doorline that exists today,” Biden said.
Biden said one of the survivors of the attack was reminded earlier this year when supporters of the right-wing of then-President Donald Trump storms the Capitol while Congress certified Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Earlier, the White House announced a set policy initiatives to combat racial inequality, including plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in communities like Greenwood that suffer from persistent poverty, as well as efforts to combat housing discrimination.
Families of the affected Oklahoma residents have demanded financial compensation, a measure that Biden has only committed to further study.
Biden said his government would soon also unveil measures to combat hate crimes and white supremacist violence, which he said was “the deadliest threat to the homeland” according to the intelligence community.
He also entrusted Vice President Kamala Harris, the first black American and the first Asian American to hold office, to lead the government’s efforts to thwart Republican efforts to restrict voting rights.
Several Republican-led states, arguing that it is necessary to strengthen electoral security, have voting restrictions passed or proposed, which, according to Biden and other Democrats, is aimed at making it harder for black voters to vote.
“There has been an unprecedented onslaught on our democracy,” Biden said, promising to fight for the rights of voters. “This sacred right is being attacked with incredible intensity like I have never seen before.”
Biden oversaw a moment of silence for the Tulsa victims after meeting three people who lived in Greenwood during the massacre, Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle.
Between the ages of 101 and 107, the survivors addressed Congress earlier this year, calling for ‘justice’ and for the country to acknowledge their suffering. They are also parties to a lawsuit against government officials and local officials seeking remedies for the massacre, including the victim’s compensation fund.
In 2001, a commission set up to study the tragedy concluded that Tulsa authorities had armed the white rioters themselves and recommended that compensation be paid.
The mayor of Tulsa this week formally apologized for the failure of the city government to protect the community.
Biden did not answer a reporter’s question about whether there should be an official apology from the president for the assassination.
The president “supports a study of compensation, but believes the task before us is to eradicate systemic racism,” said spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
Biden, who is popular with black Americans, traveled to Tulsa amid a racial calculation in the US, which has gained momentum since last year. murder of George Floyd, a black man who suffocated under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, and unleashed protests across the country and elsewhere in the world.
Biden has made tackling racial inequality an important platform of his 2020 campaign and has done the same since joining. He met members of Floyd’s family last week on the anniversary of his death and is campaigning for the passage of a police reform bill bearing Floyd’s name.
But Biden’s history of race is complicated. He came under fire during the 2020 campaign for opposition to school bus programs in the 1970s that helped integrate American schools. He also sponsored a 1994 crime bill that, according to civil rights experts, contributed to an increase in mass incarceration and defended his work with two southern segregationist senators during his days in the U.S. Senate.
His trip Tuesday provides a stark contrast to a year ago when Trump, a Republican who criticized Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements, planned a June 19 rally in Tulsa, the ‘Juneteenth ‘ commemoration celebrating the end of American slavery in 1865. The protest was postponed after criticism.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, once a slave property and a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, racial differences remain strong.
There are clear inequalities between the northern part of Tulsa, which is predominantly black, and the southern, which is mostly white.
Local activist Kristi Williams, who hails from some of the victims of the massacre, told AFP news agency she wanted Biden to ‘do us the right thing’.
“It was 100 years ago and we had a negative impact on our land, housing, economic development,” she said. “This country now has the opportunity to correct it incorrectly.”
Public awareness of the Tulsa murders, which have not been taught in history classes for decades or reported in newspapers, has increased over the past few years.
“We need to share the past and the great imperfection of inequality with each generation,” said Frances Jordan-Rakestraw, executive director of the Greenwood Cultural Center, a museum about the massacre Biden is visiting.