Biden unveils plan for racial equity at Tulsa Race Massacre centennial
President Biden on Tuesday traveled to Tulsa, Okla., to meet with the survivors of the city’s 1921 race massacre, unveiling a broad plan to drive racial equity throughout the country while holding up the city’s past as evidence of the pervasive effects of racism.
Monday and Tuesday marked the centennial of the race massacre in which an angry mob of white Tulsans burned and looted Tulsa’s thriving Black neighborhood of Greenwood. Biden is the first president to visit the neighborhood in recognition of the massacre in 1921, a point he highlighted in his remarks.
The president spent a significant portion of his speech giving a historical recounting of the events of 100 years ago in Tulsa. The massacre has gained attention in recent years after being an often overlooked instance of racism and violence.
“The history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness,” Biden said. “But just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place.”
“And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing,” he continued. “Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they can’t be buried no matter how hard people try.”
President Biden in Tulsa:
“Just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing … Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they can’t be buried no matter how hard people try.” pic.twitter.com/zS5zO4R88U
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 1, 2021
President Joe Biden in Tulsa: “My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre… among the worst in our history, but not the only one, and for too long forgotten by our history. As soon as it happened, there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory.” pic.twitter.com/4xpLplHL1b
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) June 1, 2021
Biden on Tuesday announced plans to expand and target federal purchasing power to benefit more minority-owned businesses. His administration will also submit in the coming days multiple rules that strengthen anti-discrimination housing measures rolled back during the Trump administration.
The president pointed to Tulsa as an illustration of the ways in which highways segregated cities, Black Americans face a more difficult path to home ownership, and impoverished communities haven’t been given the resources to climb into the middle class.
“There’s greater recognition that for too long we’ve allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester,” Biden said. “The view that America is a zero sum game, where there’s only one winner.”
The success of Greenwood’s business district in 1921 was well-known and referred to as Black Wall Street as it featured a trove of successful Black businesses such as medical practices, law offices, restaurants and hotels.
Located in the northern section of Tulsa, Greenwood prospered at a time when Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan rampantly discriminated against and terrorized Black Americans in the south.
But, in a span of less than 24 hours, the white mob destroyed 35 city blocks, razing more than 1,200 homes and pillaging hundreds more. The cost of the property damage totaled nearly $2 million, which translates into almost $30 million today.
As many as 300 people died during the massacre, roughly 10,000 Greenwood residents were displaced and the community has never come close to recovering.
Today, white Tulsans are twice as likely to own a home compared to Black Tulsans. White households have a median income of $55,448, while the median income of Black households is significantly lower at $30,463.
And despite an Oklahoma-sanctioned commission recommending in 2001 that reparations in the form of direct payment should be paid to the massacre’s survivors and their descendants, such remittance has never materialized.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have asserted that not only do the three remaining survivors of the massacre deserve justice, but that what happened in Tulsa 100 years ago is a perfect example of why the discussion of federal reparations needs to move forward.
“The idea of Tulsa, and the idea of continued disparities in the African American community, are ones that need to be repaired,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said Tuesday morning during a virtual caucus press conference.
Jackson Lee is the current sponsor of H.R. 40, a bill that would create a federal commission to study the need for reparations for Black Americans.
The idea of reparations has gained more traction in recent years and the long-standing bill passed out of committee for the first time in April. However, it has yet to receive a floor vote in the House.
“I want to commend the president for coming to Tulsa to bring additional awareness, and the need for racial equity, healing and justice,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), the caucus’s first vice chair, said during the virtual press conference.
“This has been a cornerstone of what he has talked about in his administration, and not just talked about, but actually taken action to implement.”
The White House has repeatedly said that the president supports the purpose of H.R. 40, but has stopped short of fully backing direct payments or other forms of reparations.
Biden has also faced pressure to forgive up to $50,000 per person in student loan debt, which groups like the NAACP have said would do more than any other measure to narrow the wealth gap in the country. But the White House made no mention of student loan forgiveness in Tuesday’s announcements, and Biden has said he’s uncomfortable canceling more than $10,000 per person in outstanding student loan debt.