Joe Biden on Tuesday became the first sitting US President to visit the site in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where hundreds of Black Americans were massacred by a white mob in 1921, and he said the legacy of racist violence and white supremacy still resonates.
Biden came to Tulsa to put a spotlight on an event that epitomises the country’s history of brutal racial violence, despite the massacre being largely under the radar in US classrooms and history books for years.
“We should know the good, the bad, everything,” Biden said in a speech to the few survivors of the attack on Tulsa’s Greenwood district and their descendants.
“That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation.”
Biden said the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol and efforts by a number of states to restrict voting were echoes of the same problem.
“What happened in Greenwood was an act of hate and domestic terrorism, with a through-line that exists today,” Biden said. White residents in Tulsa shot and killed up to 300 Black people on May 31 and June 1, 1921, and burned and looted homes and businesses, devastating a prosperous African-American community after a white woman accused a black man of assault, an allegation that was never proven.
Insurance companies did not cover the damages and no one was charged for the violence.
Biden said one of the survivors of the attack was reminded of it on January 6 when far-Right supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol while Congress was certifying Biden’s 2020 election win.
The White House has announced a set of policy initiatives to counter racial inequality, including plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in communities like Greenwood that suffer from persistent poverty and efforts to combat housing discrimination.
Families of the affected Oklahoma residents have pushed for financial reparations, a measure Biden has only committed to studying further. Biden said his administration would soon also unveil measures to counter hate crimes and white supremacist violence that he said the intelligence community has concluded is “the most lethal threat to the homeland”.
He also entrusted Vice- President Kamala Harris, the first black American and first Asian American to hold that office, to lead his administration’s efforts to counter Republican efforts to restrict voting rights.
Multiple Republican-led states, arguing for a need to bolster election security, have passed or proposed voting restrictions, which Biden and other Democrats say are aimed at making it harder for black voters to cast ballots.
But Biden nodded to a political reality he believes has stymied his efforts, including “a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends”, an apparent reference to Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin.