Biden meets Tulsa race massacre survivors on 100th anniversary
WASHINGTON – One hundred years after a white mob torched “Black Wall Street,” killing hundreds of African Americans and forcing thousands from their homes, President Joe Biden will visit Tulsa, in the city on Tuesday. ‘Oklahoma, to commemorate one of the bloodiest racial massacres. in the history of the United States.
Biden will deliver remarks on the centennial and speak to survivors of the attack, who are now between 101 and 107 years old. There are only three left.
On Monday, the White House issued a proclamation in which Biden called on Americans “to commemorate the enormous loss of life and safety during those 2 days in 1921, to celebrate the bravery and resilience of those who survived and have sought to rebuild their lives … again, and together we pledge to eradicate systemic racism and help rebuild the communities and lives that have been destroyed by it. “
Tracing a history of black perseverance and violent racist backlash, Biden will promise the last survivors of the massacre that the nation will never forget the event.
“We honor the legacy of the community of Greenwood and Black Wall Street by reaffirming our commitment to advancing racial justice throughout our government and by working to root systemic racism out of our laws, policies and institutions. our hearts, ”the statement reads.
For a century, the May 31, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was largely ignored by serving US Presidents, never prompting a trip specifically to honor those slain in the once prosperous black neighborhood of Greenwood.
Immediately after the massacre, President Warren G. Harding said he was “shocked” and hoped that “such a spectacle would never be seen in this country again,” a call the federal government did little to guarantee. . Subsequent incidents of racist violence continued for decades after the massive massacres in Tulsa.
After:100 years after the Tulsa massacre, entrepreneurs rekindle the spirit of ‘Black Wall Street’
Former President Donald Trump visited Tulsa last June for his first campaign rally amid the coronavirus pandemic. It has been criticized for initially scheduling it for June 19, a holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the United States. But Trump did not refer to the massacre in his remarks which instead grabbed the headlines for saying he wanted to slow testing for the COVID-19 virus.
After:TikTok teens credited with slashing Trump’s turnout in Tulsa
“It is very, very significant that the President of the United States comes here,” said Scott Ellsworth, professor at the University of Michigan and author of “Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921,” a documentary full story of the massacre. “Everyone I spoke to in the community supported him.”
Commander-in-Chief acknowledging “worst incident of racial violence in American history,” says Ellsworth, is important for the attention Biden’s visit will put on century-old and wider efforts to address the nation’s past failures in matters of racial equality.
“The black citizens of Tulsa were abandoned by the government of their city, by the government of their state, but they were also abandoned by the federal government in this massacre,” Ellsworth said.
“There has never been any kind of federal investigation despite the fact that over 1,000 black homes and businesses have been burnt down and over 10,000 people have become homeless. The federal government is never homeless. stepped in to try to figure out what had happened. “
American racism is past and present for Biden
At about 100 days, 89% of black Americans said they approved of Biden’s job as president – more than any other racial group – according to a Pew Research Center poll. However, the administration’s ongoing responses, especially with regard to economic inequalities and criminal justice, will be closely monitored. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which many had announced would pass before the anniversary of his death on May 25, remains in the Senate.
Early in his presidency, Biden identified racial justice as one of the four crises of his presidency. Since coming to power, the White House has sought to make racial equity a cornerstone of its policy making.
The $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, for example, included $ 5 billion in funding for black farmers. The administration also changed Small Business Administration policies that prioritized loans through the Paycheck Protection Program to businesses with less than 20 employees as part of an effort to target minority businesses. .
On his first day in office, Biden also signed an executive order intended to advance racial justice and fairness in the federal workforce.
The White House has been criticized by some racial justice advocates for not going far enough in promoting police reform and other progressive measures, although activists have admitted Biden officials are more responsive than past administrations on the matter.
Lives lost, as well as decades of black wealth
The massacre wiped out decades of accumulated black wealth in Tulsa and crippled wealth creation in the future. Various estimates determine that the amount of lost wealth exceeds $ 200 million in adjusted value for 2021.
“In terms of poverty, unemployment, child mortality, all of these statistics, the city is still haunted by this massacre. And the tragedy has created an economic low that black Americans have yet to emerge from,” Ellsworth said.
Black educator Booker T. Washington coined the name “Black Wall Street” for Greenwood in recognition of the prosperity of black middle, upper and professional classes with black-owned businesses dotting the streets.
The neighborhood sprouted after OW Gurley, a wealthy black landowner, in 1906 bought 40 acres of property in Tulsa and named it after the Mississippi town of Greenwood. He opened a boarding house for African Americans, made sure land was sold only to blacks, and made loans for new business ventures.
The massacre erupted over Memorial Day weekend in 1921 when a black shoe shiner Dick Rowland, 19, was falsely accused of attempting to rape Sarah Page, 17, who was white. Fearing Rowland might be lynched, around 75 armed black men converged on the courthouse to guard him. They were faced with around 1,500 whites.
Although the black men retreated to Greenwood, the white mob followed them, looting and torching homes and businesses, and shooting at random black residents. About 300 people died and the attack destroyed millions of personal wealth, including savings kept in homes by residents who were suspicious of white-owned banks. Thousands of blacks were left homeless.
‘I experienced the massacre every day’
The three living survivors testified this month before a House judicial subcommittee. Among them, Viola Fletcher, 107, told lawmakers: “I will never forget the violence of the white crowd when we left our house.”
“I still see black men being shot, black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see black businesses burned down. I still hear planes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I experienced the massacre every day. “
After:107 years old and demanding justice in Congress: testify from survivors of the racial massacre in Tulsa
House Democrats promised to introduce legislation that would allow victims to seek damages for the death and destruction that occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921. Similar legislation was proposed but never approved in 2007.
Fletcher told members of the subcommittee that they had “the power to lead us on a better path.”
“Open the doors to the courtroom for us,” she said.
Although former President Barack Obama did not commemorate the Tulsa Massacre, he recognized Olivia Hooker, one of the survivors, in 2015 as part of her opening speech at the Coast Guard Academy. Hooker, the first African-American woman to serve in the Coast Guard, died in 2018 at the age of 103.
Contributing: Carmen Forman and Chris Casteel from Oklahoman.
Join Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison. Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.