*On Tuesday (06-01-21), at the site of the worst destruction in American history, of a Black community, a bustling economy and its people, President Joe Biden marked the commemoration of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It was 100 years ago this week that White mobs killed hundreds of Black citizens, injured thousands more and destroyed a once-thriving business district and neighborhoods.
Mr. Biden was the first sitting president to participate in remembrances of the destruction of what Booker T. Washington first called, “Black Wall Street.” As part of his visit to Tulsa, the President met with survivors, Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle, who are 101 to 107 years old, and toured the Greenwood Cultural Center.
As expected, the President’s address continued to call attention to one of the pillars of his administration, racial justice. Tuesday’s speech focused on the area of bringing about economic parity, especially in housing and community development.
Calling it not a race riot, but a massacre, the President’s well-meaning speech tried, but did not fully address the systemic issues addressing Black people and other people of color. But he did try, as his words hit close to home, talk about restoring the “soul of this nation.”
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President Biden added:
“Just because history is silent, it does not mean that it did not take place,” Biden said. He said “hell was unleashed, literal hell was unleashed.” And now, he said, the nation must come to grips with the subsequent sin of denial.
“We can’t just choose what we want to know, and not what we should know,” said Biden. “I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen.”
After Biden left, some audience members spontaneously sang a famous civil rights march song, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
Accompanied by African American members of his administration, Mr. Biden stressed, “We must not give hate a safe harbor,” as he spoke about the necessity of improving race relations, economic opportunities as well as working to pass the current voting rights bills.
The President announced Vice President Kamala Harris will lead an effort aimed at protecting voting rights, saying the right to vote “is under assault with incredible intensity like I’ve never seen” in the face of restrictive Republican-led voting measures in state legislatures.
He called for using federal purchasing power to put money into minority-owned businesses and setting aside tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure funds to rebuild disadvantaged neighborhoods across the country.
The President added his administration will take steps to address disparities that result in Black-owned homes being appraised at tens of thousands of dollars less than comparable homes owned by Whites as well as issue new federal rules to fight housing discrimination.
While Biden supporters point to policies that demonstrate support of Black communities like Tulsa, some organizations stress the racial equity plans do not go far enough. Among the issues African American leaders and organizations say are missing are student loan debt and reparations.
Why We Need To Know:
As stated by NAACP President Derrick Johnson, “Student loan debt continues to suppress the economic prosperity of Black Americans across the nation. You cannot begin to address the racial wealth gap without addressing the student loan debt crisis. You just can’t address one without the other.”
In 2001, a commission was created to study the massacre. In 2021, President Biden said that “the federal government must reckon with and acknowledge the role that it has played in stripping wealth and opportunity from Black communities” like Greenwood. But Tulsa dependents and residents expect more from a president who has supported looking into financial reparations for Blacks.
The 2001 commission also recommended that Greenwood residents receive compensation. But so far, reparations have not been paid, and Tuesday, not mentioned.