(AP) — President Joe Biden
will help commemorate the 100th anniversary
of the destruction of a thriving Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma
, one of the country's darkest – and largely forgotten – moments of racial violence.
Biden's visit to Tulsa on Tuesday, during which he will grieve for the hundreds of Black people
killed by a white mob a century ago, comes amid a national reckoning on racial justice
, and it will stand in stark contrast to the most recent presidential visit to the city, which occurred last year.
Biden will be the first president to attend commemorations of what was known as "Black Wall Street
." On May 31 and June 1, 1921, Tulsa's white residents and civil society leaders looted and burned to the ground the Greenwood district, and used planes to drop projectiles on it.
Up to 300 Black Tulsans were killed, and thousands of survivors were forced to live in internment camps overseen by the National Guard
for a time. Burned bricks and a fragment of a church basement are the only remnants of the more than 30-block historically Black district that remain today.
America's ongoing struggle for racial justice will put Biden to the test, as his presidency would not have been possible without overwhelming support from Black voters
in both the Democratic primaries and the general election
Following nationwide protests after George Floyd
a year ago, which reignited a national conversation about race, Biden has pledged to help combat racism
in policing and other areas of life. Floyd, a Black man, was killed by white Minneapolis police
officer Derek Chauvin
, who pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.
When Chauvin was convicted in April
, Biden declared that the country's work
was far from done, saying, "We can't stop here."
He urged Congress
to act quickly on policing reform, but he has long portrayed himself as an ally of police officers, who are facing criticism about long-used tactics and training methods, as well as recruitment difficulties.
Despite its horror, the Tulsa massacre has only recently entered the national conversation — and the presidential visit will shine a brighter light on it.
“This is so important because we have to acknowledge what we have done if we are to be otherwise,” said Eddie Glaude, chair of Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies. Biden’s visit, Glaude added, “has to be more than symbolic. To tell the truth is the precondition for reconciliation, and reconciliation is the basis for repair.”
Biden is set to announce new measures to help close the wealth gap between Blacks
and whites and reinvest in underserved communities while visiting the Greenwood Cultural Center.
According to the White House
, the administration will take steps to address disparities that result in Black-owned homes being appraised at tens of thousands of dollars less than comparable white-owned homes, as well as issue new federal rules to combat housing
According to the White House, the administration's goal is to increase the share of federal contracts awarded to small disadvantaged businesses by 50% by 2026, resulting in an estimated $100 billion in additional funding for such businesses over the five-year period.
Biden will also speak about how his jobs
plan, which is still being worked out with Congress, can help create jobs and wealth in communities of color.
Historians believe the Tulsa massacre began when a local newspaper created a stir over a Black man accused of stepping on a white girl's foot, and when Black Tulsans showed up with guns
to prevent the man from being lynched, white residents reacted with overwhelming force.
A grand jury investigation
at the time concluded, without evidence, that unidentified agitators had given Tulsa's African Americans
their firearms as well as their mistaken belief in "equal rights, social equality, and their ability to demand the same."
Tensions have not subsided even after 100 years.
Organizers canceled a headline commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre
, citing an inability to reach an agreement over monetary payments to three survivors of the deadly attack
, highlighting broader debates about reparations
for racial injustice.
Reparations for Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved, as well as other forms of racial discrimination, have been debated in the United States
's abolition in 1865, and are now being considered by colleges and universities with ties to slavery, as well as local governments looking to make cash payments to Black residents.
Some Tulsa's Black residents, however, question whether the $20 million spent to build the Greenwood Rising museum in an increasingly gentrified part of town would have been better spent helping Black descendants of the massacre or residents of the city's predominantly Black north side, which is several miles away from Greenwood.
Disagreements among Tulsa's Black leaders over how to handle commemorative events, as well as millions of dollars in donations, have resulted in two distinct groups planning separate slates of anniversary events.
Biden, who served as vice president to the nation's first Black president and chose a Black woman as his own vice president, supports a study of reparations, both in Tulsa and more broadly, but has not committed to supporting payments. He recently declared the need for America to confront its dark past, saying, "We must acknowledge that there can be no realization of the American dream without grappling with the dark past."
He declared Monday a "day of remembrance" for the massacre.
Last year, Donald Trump
, Biden's predecessor, paid a visit to Tulsa under very different circumstances.
After suspending his campaign rallies due to the coronavirus pandemic
, Trump chose Tulsa as the location to mark his return. However, Trump's decision to hold the rally on June 19, the holiday known as Juneteenth that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, was met with such fierce criticism that Trump postponed the event by a day.
Trump arrived in Tulsa at a highly charged time, just days after he ordered the forcible clearing of Lafayette Square
across from the White House, with federal officers evicting those peacefully protesting Floyd's death. Throughout his presidency, Trump has reflexively embraced law enforcement and was frequently accused of using racist
rhetoric when painting apocalyptic — and inaccurate — scene.