Tulsa, OK: Joe Biden has used the centenary of the Tulsa race massacre as a rallying cry for America to be honest about its history, insisting that great nations “come to terms with their dark sides”.
On Tuesday Biden became the first sitting president to visit the site where, on 31 May and 1 June 1921, a white mob murdered up to 300 African Americans and burned and looted homes and businesses, razing a prosperous community known as “Black Wall Street”.
In an emotional speech punctuated by intense applause, Biden pleaded for America to confront its past and admit that a thread of hatred runs from Tulsa through more recent displays of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia, and at the US Capitol in Washington on 6 January, reports The Guardian.
He also drew a connection to a Republican assault on the voting rights of people of color and announced that Vice President Kamala Harris would lead the White House effort to resist it.
Knowledge of this violent attempt to suppress Black success in Greenwood, Tulsa, fell victim to a decades-long conspiracy of silence. The atrocity was not taught in schools, even in Tulsa, until the mid-2000s and was expunged from police records.
Biden’s argument was a striking contrast from his predecessor, Donald Trump, who promoted a heroic vision of American history. After studying an exhibition on this lost “boom town” at the Greenwood Cultural Center, Biden’s message appeared to be the opposite of “Make America great again” – an acknowledgment that America’s history includes slavery and segregation, and that only looking that fully in the face can allow it to move forward.
Challenging the language used to describe the one of the worst chapters in the country’s history of racial violence, President Biden followed a moment of silence with a pointed statement: “My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre.”
He went on: “Among the worst in our history. But not the only one and for too long, forgotten by our history. As soon as it happened, there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory, our collective memory…”
He promised that his administration would address racism at its roots, expanding federal contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses, investing tens of billions of dollars in communities like Greenwood and pursuing new efforts to combat housing discrimination.
Kamala Harris released a statement that noted almost 400 bills have been introduced at the state level (by the Republicans) since the last presidential election to make it more difficult for some people to vote. “The work ahead of us is to make voting accessible to all American voters, and to make sure every vote is counted through a free, fair, and transparent process,” she said. “This is the work of democracy.”
Biden has made numerous policy speeches as president but the convergence of history, racial justice and the audience on Tuesday seemed to strike a particular chord in him. It was the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville in 2017 that moved him to end political retirement and run for president again.