WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden will help remember one of the country’s darkest – and largely forgotten – times of racial violence when he helps commemorate the 100th anniversary of the destruction of a thriving black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Biden’s visit on Tuesday, in which he will mourn the hundreds of blacks killed by a white mob a century ago, comes amid a national judgment on racial justice. And this is in stark contrast to a president’s last visit to Tulsa, which took place last year.
Biden will be the first president to participate in commemorations for the destruction of what was known as “Black Wall Street”. In 1921 – May 31 and June 1 – white Tulsa residents and civil society leaders looted and torched Greenwood District and used planes to drop projectiles there.
He will meet privately with the survivors of the massacre. As many as 300 Black Tulsans were killed and thousands of survivors were forced for some time into internment camps supervised by the National Guard. Burnt bricks and a fragment of a church basement are just about all that survives today in the historically black neighborhood of over 30 city blocks.
The United States’ continued struggle for racial justice will continue to test Biden, whose presidency would have been impossible without the overwhelming support of black voters, both in the Democratic primary and general election.
Biden has pledged to help tackle racism in the police and other areas of life following nationwide protests after George Floyd’s death a year ago that sparked a national conversation about race . Floyd, a black man, was killed by white Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, who rested his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
After Chauvin was sentenced in April, Biden said the country’s job was far from over with the verdict, saying, “We can’t stop here.”
He called on Congress to act quickly to tackle police reform. But he has also long envisioned himself as an ally of the police, which fights criticism of long-used training tactics and methods and recruitment difficulties.
Despite its horror, the Tulsa massacre only recently entered national discourse – and the presidential visit will shed more light on the event.
“It’s so important because we have to recognize what we’ve done if we’re to be otherwise,” said Eddie Glaude, president of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University. Biden’s visit, Glaude said, “must be more than symbolic. Telling the truth is the precondition for reconciliation, and reconciliation is the basis for reparation. “
Biden, during his visit to the Greenwood Cultural Center, to announce new measures to help close the wealth gap between blacks and whites and reinvest in underserved communities by expanding access to homeownership and small business ownership.
The White House said the administration will take action to address disparities that put black-owned homes valued at tens of thousands of dollars less than comparable white-owned homes as well as enact new federal rules to combat housing discrimination.
The administration is also setting itself a target of increasing the share of federal contracts awarded to disadvantaged small businesses by 50% by 2026, channeling an additional $ 100 billion to these businesses over the five-year period, according to the government. the White House.
Biden will also discuss how his employment plan – still a topic of negotiation with Congress – can help create jobs and build wealth in communities of color.
Historians say the Tulsa massacre began after a local newspaper escalated anger against a black man accused of stepping on a white girl’s foot. When the Black Tulsans showed up with guns to prevent the lynching of the man, the white residents responded with overwhelming force.
A grand jury inquiry at the time concluded, without evidence, that unidentified agitators had given African Americans in Tulsa their guns and what was described as their mistaken belief “in equal rights, l ‘social equality and their capacity to demand the same’.
Tensions persist 100 years later.
Organizers canceled a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, saying no agreement could be reached on monetary payments to three survivors of the deadly attack. It highlights broader debates on racial injustice remedies.
Reparations for black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved and for other racial discrimination have been debated in the United States since slavery ended in 1865. Now they are being discussed by related colleges and universities. to slavery and by local governments seeking to make cash payments to black residents.
But some black residents of Tulsa wonder if the $ 20 million spent to build the Greenwood Rising Museum in an increasingly gentrified part of the city could have been better spent helping black descendants of the massacre or residents of the North Side. predominantly black town several miles from Greenwood.
Disagreements among black leaders in Tulsa over the handling of commemorative events and millions of dollars in donations led two disparate groups to plan separate lists of anniversary events.
Biden, who was vice president of the country’s first black president and who chose a black woman as his own vice president, supports a study on reparations, both in Tulsa and more broadly, but has not committed to support payments. He recently declared the need for America to face its gruesome past, stating, “We must recognize that there can be no fulfillment of the American Dream without fighting the original sin of slavery and the countryside. centuries of violence, fear and trauma caused. about African Americans in this country.
He issued a proclamation designating Monday as the “remembrance day” of the massacre.
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump visited Tulsa last year under very different circumstances.
After suspending his election rallies due to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump, a Republican, chose Tulsa as the location to mark his return. But his decision to schedule the rally for June 19, a holiday known as Juneteenth that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, was met with such fierce criticism that he postponed the event from One day. The rally was still marked by outdoor protests and empty seats in a downtown arena.
Trump arrived in Tulsa at a very busy time, days after ordering a forced cleanup of Lafayette Square across from the White House, with federal officers expelling those peacefully protesting Floyd’s death. Trump has reflexively embraced law enforcement throughout his presidency and has often been accused of using racist rhetoric when painting apocalyptic – and inaccurate – scenes of American cities.