Joe Biden has become the first U.S. president in session to visit the site of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where hundreds of black Americans were killed by a white mob in 1921, saying the United States must learn from one of the worst episodes of racist violence in the country’s history.
He marked the Democrat the centenary of the mass murder on meeting Tuesday the few survivors of the violence.
“It wasn’t a riot, it was a massacre,” Biden said in a speech to the survivors and their descendants. “(It was) 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 collective memories … for a long time the schools of Tulsa didn’t even teach it, let alone the schools of others. places”.
White Tulsa residents shot and killed up to 300 blacks on May 31 and June 1, 1921, and burned and looted homes and businesses after a white woman accused a black man of assault, a complaint that it was never proved.
The fury devastated the African American community of Greenwood, in the time so prosperous that it was called Black Wall Street. Historians say the first 10,000 inhabitants were left homeless.
But 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 United States.
“We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do, “he said. “They agree on their dark sides. And we are a great nation. “
Biden said the Jan. 6 deadly assassination at the U.S. Capitol and the efforts of several states to restrict voting rights were echoes of the same problem.
“What happened in Greenwood was an act of domestic hatred and terrorism, with a line that exists today,” Biden said.
Biden said one of the survivors of the attack was remembered earlier this year when supporters of far-right then-President Donald Trump he stormed the Capitol while Congress certified Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
Earlier, the White House announced a set of political initiatives to combat racial inequality, including plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in communities like Greenwood suffering from persistent poverty, as well as efforts to combat housing discrimination.
Families of affected Oklahoma residents have been pushing for financial reparations, a move Biden has only pledged to study further.
Biden said his administration would soon also reveal measures to combat hate crimes and white supremacist violence which he said the intelligence community has concluded is “the most lethal threat to the homeland.”
He also entrusted Vice President Kamala Harris, the first black American and the first Asian American to hold the post, to lead his administration’s efforts to counter Republican efforts to restrict voting rights.
Several Republican-led states advocate for the need to strengthen electoral security approved or proposed voting restrictions, which Biden and other Democrats say are aimed at making it harder for black voters to vote.
There was “an unprecedented assault on our democracy,” Biden said, promising to fight for voter rights. “This sacred right is being assaulted with incredible intensity like I have never seen before.”
Biden oversaw a moment of silence for Tulsa victims after meeting three people who lived in Greenwood during the mass murder, Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle.
Now, between the ages of 101 and 107, survivors went to Congress earlier this year, calling for “justice” and for the country to acknowledge its suffering. They are also parties to plet against state and local officials seeking remedies for the mass murder, including a compensation fund for the victims.
In 2001, a commission set up to study the tragedy concluded that the Tulsa authorities themselves had armed some of the white riot police and recommended that repairs be paid.
The mayor of Tulsa formally apologized this week for the city government’s failure to protect the community.
Biden did not answer a journalist’s question about whether there should be an official presidential apology for the killings.
The president “supports the study of reparations, but believes the task before us is to root systemic racism,” spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Biden, who is popular with black Americans, traveled to Tulsa amid a racial calculation in the United States, which has gained momentum since last year. murder of George Floyd, a black man who drowned under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, sparking protests across the country and elsewhere in the world.
Biden made the fight against racial inequality a key platform in his 2020 campaign and has done the same since taking office. Last week he met with members of Floyd’s family for the anniversary of his death and is pushing for the passage of a police reform bill bearing Floyd’s name.
But Biden’s trajectory in career matters is complex. He was attacked during the 2020 campaign in opposition to the school bus programs of the 1970s that helped integrate American schools. He also sponsored a 1994 bill that according to civil rights experts contributed to an increase in mass imprisonment and that he defended his work with two segregationist senators from the south during his days in the U.S. Senate.
His trip on Tuesday offered a stark contrast to a year ago, when Trump, a Republican who criticized Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements, planned a political rally in Tulsa on June 19.Junetenth ‘ anniversary celebrating the end of American slavery in 1865. Concentration was postponed after being criticized.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, once a slave-owning and stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, racial disparities remain strong.
There are noticeable inequalities between the northern part of Tulsa, which is predominantly black, and the south, which is mostly white.
Local activist Kristi Williams, a descendant of some of the victims of the killings, told AFP news agency that she wanted Biden to “do us good.”
“100 years have passed and we have been negatively impacted by housing, economic development and our land has been taken away,” he said. “This country, right now, has a chance to correct this evil.”
Public awareness about the killings in Tulsa, which were not taught in history classes or reported in the newspapers for decades, has risen in recent years.
“We need to share with each generation the past and the significant imperfection of inequality,” said Frances Jordan-Rakestraw, executive director of the Greenwood Cultural Center, a museum about the murder Biden visited.