An emotional Joe Biden marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre that destroyed a thriving Black community in the Oklahoma city, declaring Tuesday that he had "come to fill the silence" about one of the country's darkest — and long suppressed — moments of racial violence.
"This was not a riot. This was a massacre," the U.S. president said during an afternoon memorial. "Among the worst in our history, but not the only one. And for too long, forgotten by our history.
"We can't just choose what we want to know, and not what we should know."
Biden also toured the Greenwood Cultural Center before meeting with three people who lived in the district during the massacre — Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle.
Now between the ages of 101 and 107, those survivors asked Congress for "justice" this year and are parties to a lawsuit against state and local officials seeking several remedies for the massacre, including a victim compensation fund.
"Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they cannot be buried, no matter how hard people try," Biden said. "Only with truth can come healing."
After Biden left, there was a spontaneous singing by some audience members of a famous civil rights march song, .
Contrast to Trump's visit
The events on Tuesday stood in stark contrast to then-President Donald Trump's trip to Tulsa last June, which was greeted by protests. Or the former president's decision, one year ago, to clear Lafayette Square near the White House of demonstrators who gathered to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Biden's administration also planned steps to combat inequality, including efforts to expand federal contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses, invest tens of billions of dollars in communities like Greenwood that suffer from persistent poverty and pursue new efforts to combat housing discrimination.
But Biden did not answer a reporter's question about whether there should be an official U.S. presidential apology for the incident. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre did not say whether the president would discuss whether reparations should be paid to the descendants of people who were affected.
In a proclamation on Monday, Biden asked all Americans to "reflect on the deep roots of racial terror in our Nation and recommit to the work of rooting out systemic racism across our country."
His visit comes during a racial reckoning in the United States as the country's white majority shrinks, threats increase from white supremacist groups and the country re-examines its treatment of Black Americans after Floyd's murder last year.
Biden, who won the presidency on the strength of Black voter support, made fighting racial inequality a key platform of his 2020 campaign and has done the same during his short tenure in the White House. He met last week with members of Floyd's family on the anniversary of his death and is pushing for passage of a police reform bill that bears Floyd's name.
Growing public awareness
Public awareness about the killings in Tulsa on May 31 and June 1, 1921, which were not taught in history classes or reported by local newspapers for decades, has grown in recent years.
White residents shot and killed up to 300 Black people and burned and looted homes and businesses, devastating the prosperous Greenwood district — known at the time as "Black Wall Street" — 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 attacks.
Thousands of survivors of the massacre were forced for a time into internment camps overseen by the National Guard. Burned bricks and a fragment of a church basement are about all that survive today of the more than 30-block, historically Black district.
Biden's visit "encourages unity and gives hope," said Frances Jordan-Rakestraw, executive director of the Greenwood Cultural Center, a museum about the massacre. "It is necessary that we share with each generation the past and the significant imperfection of inequality."
William Darity Jr., a professor at Duke University, who co-wrote said the Tulsa visit would be a meaningful time to announce a presidential commission to "explore the history of America's racial atrocities and bring forth proposals for racial justice."
Jean-Pierre said Biden "supports a study of reparations, but believes first and foremost the task in front of us is to root out systemic racism."
The racial justice issue also figures in the growing battle over voting rights. Multiple Republican-led states, claiming 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 and other minority voters to cast ballots.
With files from The Associated Press
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca