The president of the United States, Joe Biden, visited the city of Tulsa in Oklahoma on Tuesday to “help break the silence” that for a long time rested on one of the worst episodes of racial violence in the history of the country. The Democratic president met with three survivors from the Greenwood neighborhood on the centennial of the murder of at least 300 African Americans and asked to have a memory because “you cannot bury the pain and the drama forever.” What’s more announced economic aid measures for the population black with the aim of facilitating access to property and the creation of small and medium-sized businesses.
Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob of white men, in collusion with the National Guard, looted and burned more than 1,200 homes, making the then prosperous neighborhood of Greenwood almost completely disappear. Biden became the first president in office to visit the place on this special date. He did it after the wave of racial justice protests in the United States in the past year, triggered by the death of African American George Floyd after being smothered by a white cop in Minneapolis.
“The factsThe ones we talk about happened 100 years ago, and yet I am the first president in 100 years to come to Tulsa. “said Biden, who said he wanted to “acknowledge the truth” of the tragedy. The Democratic president also assured that the vote of the black population “is being attacked” and expressed: “I have come here to help break the silence. Because in the silence, the wounds deepen”.
“These were not riots, this was a massacre and one of the worst in our history”Biden remarked from Tulsa, and closed his speech by comparing the atrocities of white supremacists in the past with the extremist threats of the present. The president recalled that one of the few survivors of the Tulsa massacre, Viola Fletcher, said when he saw the uprising on Capitol Hill on January 6, it “broke his heart” and “reminded him of what happened” 100 years ago. “Look around you at the various hate crimes against Asian and Jewish Americans. Hate is never defeated, it only hides. If your leaders are given just a little oxygen, it respawns“Biden warned.
Before giving your message, the democrat leader He toured the Greenwood Cultural Center, viewed photos from the period, and then met behind closed doors with three survivors between the ages of 101 and 107: Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle. He also took advantage of his visit to Tulsa to announce a battery of initiatives “to narrow the racial economic gap and invest in communities left behind by failed policies”the White House reported in a statement.
Biden explained in that sense some of his main economic initiatives. Stressed that the black homeownership rate is lower today than it was in 1950 when the Fair Access to Housing Act was passed, and he promised “all funds” at his disposal for it to be invest in “American workers to produce American goods that benefit small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, especially blacks and people of color”.
Beyond those specific announcements, the Biden administration listed a series of points that are already included in its ambitious infrastructure plan that is being negotiated with the Republicans. Among those policies is the creation of a ten billion dollar fund to support infrastructure projects that revitalize the communities most in need; and $ 15 billion to remodel existing infrastructure and remove obstacles that isolate certain regions. The measures will affect the entire country although they are designed to boost communities like Tulsa’s.
Biden came to this Oklahoma City to commemorate the centennial of a massacre that began after a group of black men went to the local courthouse to defend a young African-American accused of assaulting a woman. The next day, hundreds of white men reacted vehemently by looting and burning to the ground the neighborhood of Greenwood, which at that time was so prosperous that it was known as “Black Wall Street”.
For decades there was talk of riots and it was never even investigated how many black people were killed, injured or lost everything they had. A commission determined only in 2001 that up to 300 black Tusla residents were killed in the fierce attack, and that thousands more were detained for several weeks in camps guarded by the Oklahoma National Guard.. The police, who did not try to prevent the massacre, even armed some of the rioters.
The Oklahoma commission of inquiry recommended that Greenwood residents receive compensation, something that has yet to happen.. The desire for transparency was recently revealed by excavations to find the mass graves where the many black victims were buried.
On Monday the mayor of Tulsa, George Bynum, formally apologized for “the city’s inability to protect” the community in 1921. Kristi Williams, a local activist and descendant of victims of the massacre, wants Biden to bring justice. “A hundred years ago they paralyzed our homes, our economic development, our land was taken from us”. Today, the country “has the opportunity to correct that error,” he said.
The effects of the destruction continue to be felt in Oklahoma City, a former slave-owning southern state and stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan.. The inequalities between the predominantly black north of Tulsa and the predominantly white south are stark.
Tulsa visitors “can’t believe how much segregation is still there or how much racism is manifesting,” said Michelle Brown, head of educational programs at the local cultural center. “It has not changed, we remain segregated,” summed up Billie Parker, a 50-year-old black woman who grew up in Tulsa.
Dozens of people gathered in the drizzle before Biden’s arrival. Locals rubbed shoulders with people who came exclusively to witness the tribute. Khalid Kamau, 44, said he traveled from Georgia not so much to commemorate the massacre but rather to celebrate what was once “a successful and self-sufficient black community.” “If it existed once, it can exist again”, he claimed.
Many believe that it is time for the State to help Tulsa regain the prosperity lost in 1921. “Here there is only grass but there was investment, there was wealth, there was life”recalled the Democratic congresswoman from Texas Sheila Jackson Lee. On April 19, some of the last survivors traveled to Washington to testify before Congress and ask that the country recognize their suffering.
Beyond the compensations, the inhabitants hope that this occasion will serve to publicize this tragedy that for a long time became a taboo subject. In order to LaShaundra Haughton, 51, great-granddaughter of the massacre survivors, “It’s time to heal, it’s time to tell the truth and it’s time to bring it all to light”.