Title: Negro Slain in Tulsa Riot, June-1-1921 Creator: Unknown Date: June 1, 1921 Place: Greenwood District, Tulsa, Oklahoma Part Of: http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/cdm/search/collection/nam/searchterm/Ag2013.0002

The Tulsa Race Massacre didn’t happen in a vacuum. Biden met with the living survivors of the Massacre to confront America’s racist past and offer hope for the future. 

One hundred years ago a thriving Black community was burned to the ground by a violent white mob. It was called the Tulsa Race Massacre.

The community was named Greenwood and located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the time, it was the wealthiest Black community in the country and affectionately nicknamed “Black Wall Street.” Greenwood was one of the few respites for African Americans in the face of segregation and Jim Crow laws, and it was in this Black Wall Street that Black-owned businesses could thrive. 

All of that came crashing down over a few days in May 1921. Tulsa was a highly segregated city. When a young Black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an elevator building and the young white elevator operator Sarah Page screamed, Rowland fled. He was promptly arrested while rumors of sexual assault flew. 

On the night of May 31, a white mob gathered outside of the courthouse with possible plans to lynch the young teenager. A group of 75 armed Black men, many marines, gathered to protect Rowland that evening. They were met with thousands of white men carrying weapons and ready for violence. 

What followed was a tragedy. Through the night and into the following day the white mob terrorized the community. The prosperous Greenwood was burned to the ground, leaving many Black Americans dead and even more displaced. 

There were no arrests of the mob and no proper accounting for the dead. Original local reports placed the death toll around 36, while recent estimates put the number in the multiples of hundreds. 

Yet, the thing that made it all worse was the aftermath. Tulsa and the rest of the nation worked hard to ignore the Tulsa Race Massacre. For many years, schools in Tulsa didn’t even mention the massacre. Only recently has a history made it into American textbooks. 

Title: Truck Being Used to Gather up Colored Victims - During Tulsa Race Riot, 6-1-21 Creator: Unknown Date: June 1, 1921 Place: Greenwood District, Tulsa, Oklahoma Part Of: http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/cdm/search/collection/nam/searchterm/Ag2013.0002

Today, President Joe Biden traveled to Tulsa to bring the unspoken history into the spotlight. Biden met with the living survivors of the Massacre and delivered passionate remarks on the country’s racist past– and his hope for the future. 

During his speech, Biden highlighted that in the 100 years since the event, Biden was the first President to come to Tulsa and acknowledge the tragedy. The President remarked that “in silence, wounds deepen.” 

“Only with truth comes healing and justice,” said Biden. After reflecting on the past, Biden spotlighted acknowledgment and education as the way forward for the country.

Biden also spoke on the reverberating impacts of the Tulsa Race Massacre on the current day. The event was an entire century ago, but the President drew stark comparisons to moments in the modern day. 

Four years ago

Four years ago, an angry mob of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched Charlottesville with torches in hand. A few months ago, alt-right extremists and white supremacists stormed the Capitol in a violent insurrection. Asian American, Jewish American, and Black American communities still face hate crimes in the current day.

The event of the Tulsa Race Massacre didn’t happen in a vacuum, and it wasn’t just about the buildings burned down. 

“It was a loss of living, a loss of wealth and prosperity and possibilities,” said Biden. Biden said that loss is still felt across the nation today. He named inequities in areas like housing, where a house owned by a Black family is appraised for less than a similar house owned by a white family. 

A White House fact sheet mentioned other statistics, like that the median Black American family has 13 cents for every 1 dollar in wealth held by White families. The damage done to Black families in Tulsa and across the nation is still present today, which brought Biden to his administration’s improvement plans. 

President Biden delivers remarks in Tulsa on June 2, 2021.

Biden announced two of the administration’s efforts in his remarks targeted towards Black wealth creation. The first is an effort to combat racial discrimination in housing, and the second is to assist disadvantaged small businesses. 

The percentage of Black American homeownership is lower than when the Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago. Biden says he plans to combat that by directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to follow proposed rules on combating housing practices with discriminatory effects. 

The Biden-Harris administration also targets home appraisal inequity, using enforcement under fair housing laws, regulatory action, and the development of new standards and guidance to ensure an absence of racial discrimination.

While Biden’s small-business plan is targeted towards “disadvantaged” businesses, the President made a notable claim in his speech. 

“I’m going to increase the share of the dollars the federal government spends on small disadvantaged businesses, including Black and brown businesses, from 10% and move that to 15% of every dollar spent,” said Biden.

The President also mentioned other initiatives like access to schooling for all three and four-year-old children, as well as his in-negotiations infrastructure bill. He said other efforts like the COVID-19 Hate Crime bill also benefited the Black community and reduced inequity. 

Still, as he listed his plans, Biden brought the focus back to Tulsa’s painful past– and a more hopeful future.

“That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark side,” said Biden. 

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