On the 100th anniversary
of the Tulsa race massacre
, President Joe Biden
delivered remarks from Tulsa, Oklahoma
, becoming the first U.S. president to participate in the commemoration of one of the darkest days in America's racist
“For far too long, the history of what happened here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness,” Biden said from Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center. “But just because history is silent, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and while darkness can hide much, it cannot erase anything.”
“My fellow Americans, this was not a riot; this was a massacre,” he added, rejecting the long-used “race riot” narrative
to describe the events.
A violent white supremacist mob descended on Tulsa's thriving Black neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street
because of its self-sufficiency economy
, to destroy homes and businesses and kill hundreds of Black people
. Accounts of the attack
are graphic: churches were bombed, pregnant women
were brutalized, children
were murdered, and at least 35 square city blocks were razed.
Biden went into great detail about the atrocities.
“In less than 24 hours, 1,100 Black homes and businesses were destroyed, and insurance
companies rejected damage claims,” Biden said, adding that the financial toll has been felt for generations by victims’ descendants.
“Imagine all of those hotels and diners and mom-and-pop shops that could have been passed down over the last century,” Biden reflected.
Officials dismissed the massacre as a "race riot" and declined to prosecute a single person, allowing one of the country's most heinous acts of white violence to become a mere footnote in U.S. history lessons.
“The events we are discussing today occurred 100 years ago, and yet I am the first president to visit Tulsa in 100 years,” Biden said.
“We do ourselves no favors by pretending that none of this ever happened or that it doesn’t affect us today,” he continued.
It wasn't until 2016 that the city established the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission
in preparation for the 100th anniversary, increasing pressure on elected officials and other public figures to address what happened that day. Now, Black Wall Street is hosting events with celebrities
and politicians like Biden to commemorate the event, and millions of dollars are going toward tourism initiatives.
The surviving victims and their descendants, however, claim they have had no say in the commemorations and are fighting for reparations
. There are three known survivors of the 1921 massacre who are still alive: Viola Fletcher, 107; Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106; and Hughes Van Ellis, 100, all of whom were present at Biden's speech Tuesday.
“We lost everything that day,” Fletcher told lawmakers, “our homes, churches, newspapers, theaters, and lives. Greenwood represented the best of what was possible for Black people in America and for all people. No one cared about us for 100 years. We and our history have been forgotten, washed away.”
, not ISIS or Al Qaeda
, is the most lethal threat to the homeland today, according to Biden.
During his speech, he also announced that his administration is launching new efforts to promote black wealth creation, such as a plan to combat racial discrimination in housing
and increase federal spending on assisting small, disadvantaged businesses, particularly those in Black communities.
Finally, he criticized some of the recent voter suppression
bills that have passed through state legislatures, including a highly restrictive one being considered in Texas
, and which have a disproportionate impact on Black communities, calling them “un-American.”