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Biden delivers remarks on Tulsa Race Massacre after meeting with survivors


(TULSA, Okla.) — President Joe Biden is in Tulsa, Oklahoma to mark the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, becoming the first sitting president to visit the historic Greenwood neighborhood to talk about the deadly racial attack.

Biden first toured the Greenwood Cultural Center and privately met with survivors ahead of remarks in which he announced new actions his administration is taking to narrow the racial wealth gap between Black and white Americans.

Biden was introduced by Lauren Usher, a descendent of a Tulsa Race Massacre victim. The living survivors — aged 101 to 107 — looked on for his speech.

“You are the three known remaining survivors of a story seen in the mirror dimly. But no longer. Now, your story will be known in full view,” Biden began.

Pres. Biden to Tulsa Race Massacre survivors: “You are the three known remaining survivors of a story seen in the mirror dimly—but no longer. Now your story will be known in full view.” https://t.co/8tsvN79IHC pic.twitter.com/rLJJUtcXL8

— ABC News (@ABC) June 1, 2021

He acknowledged that the history of the attack has been whitewashed and overlooked in the past 100 years — made evident by the fact, he said, that he is the first president to visit Greenwood.

“Just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean it did not take place. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing,” he said. “Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they can’t be buried no matter how hard people try. And so it is here — only with truth — can come healing and justice.”

“We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened,” Pres. Biden says on Tulsa Race Massacre.

“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know, and not what we should know.” https://t.co/PoG3lKd321 pic.twitter.com/9vkWxWMpOX

— ABC News (@ABC) June 1, 2021

During the earlier tour, Biden engaged in some back-and-forth with the museum’s coordinator, saying at one point, “It wasn’t a riot, it was a massacre.”

“My fellow Americans: this was not a riot—this was a massacre.”

Pres. Biden marks the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, becoming the first sitting president to visit the historic neighborhood to commemorate the deadly racial attack. https://t.co/PoG3lKd321 pic.twitter.com/QhN4ezGNtI

— ABC News (@ABC) June 1, 2021

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and senior adviser Cedric Richmond, joined Biden for his meeting with the three living members of the Greenwood community who survived the massacre: Viola “Mother” Fletcher, Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis and Lessie “Mother Randle” Benningfield Randle.

All three testified before Congress last month, calling for reparations. Last year, they filed a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa and others demanding compensation for what they called the ongoing “public nuisance” inflicted on them and other families for decades following the attack.

In his remarks, Biden detailed the events which sparked the white mob to descend on Greenwood. Gunshots were fired outside a courthouse after a young, Black man was accused of assaulting a white, female elevator operator and arrested.

“It was an innocent interaction that turned into a terrible, terrible headline allegation of a Black male, teenager attacking a white female teenager,” Biden said, explaining how crowds gathered outside the court.

“Literal hell was unleashed,” he said.

On the evening May 31, 1921, and into the following day, a mob or armed, white men descended on the all-Black Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, destroying 35 blocks of the neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.”

“The mob terrorized Greenwood with torches and guns, shooting at will. A mob tied a Black man by the waist to the back of their truck with his head banging along the pavement as they drove off,” Biden said. “A murdered Black family draped over the fence of their home, outside. An elderly couple knelt by their bed, praying to God with their heart and their soul, when they were shot in the back of their heads.”

Painting the picture that Mother Fletcher says she lives with each day, Biden said, “100 years ago, at this hour on this first day of June, smoke darkened the Tulsa sky, rising from 35 blocks of Greenwood that were left in ash and ember, razed, in rubble.”

With members of law enforcement of government employees working against Black residents, the state of Oklahoma recorded only 36 deaths, but a 2001 commission reported the number killed was as high as 300. The commission found an estimated $1.8 million in damages — renewing calls for reparations — which would come out to more than $25 million in 2021. As many as 10,000 residents were displaced or put in internment camps after the massacre was painted as a “riot” to prevent Black businesses from collecting on insurance claims.

“I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen,” Biden said to applause. “As painful as it is, only in remembrance do wounds heal.”

Biden also called for a moment of silence for the descendants of Greenwood.

“May their souls rest in peace,” he said, hanging his head.

The president also warned against complacency, saying, “hate is never defeated” but “only hides.”

“Folks, we can’t — we must not give hate a safe harbor,” Biden said. “Terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today — not ISIS, not al-Qaida, white supremacists.”

The president proposed a broader agenda to address racial inequities beyond Tulsa in his remarks — starting with atoning for the federal government.

NEW: Pres. Biden calls for June to be “a month of action on Capitol Hill” on voting rights bills, and says he will task Vice President Harris with helping to push them through Congress.https://t.co/8tsvN79IHC pic.twitter.com/89S2g1PwAk

— ABC News (@ABC) June 1, 2021

New steps the administration wants to take include directing more federal contracts to small and minority-owned businesses, expanding access to homeownership and launching infrastructure-programs intended to repair neighborhoods like Greenwood.

But the NAACP and other civil rights groups are criticizing Biden for not including steps to reduce student loan debt — one of the biggest obstacles preventing Black Americans from accumulating wealth, advocates say.

“Student loan debt continues to suppress the economic prosperity of Black Americans across the nation,” Derrick Johnson, the NAACP president, said in a statement. “You cannot begin to address the racial wealth gap without addressing the student loan debt crisis.”

Asked by ABC News White House correspondent Karen Travers about the omission on Tuesday, Jean-Pierre pivoted from the question by talking about the president’s proposal to invest in historically Black colleges and universities as part of his American Families Plan.

“These institutions are critical to helping underrepresented students move to the top of the income ladder,” she said. “President Biden is calling for a historic investment in affordability through subsidized tuition and expanding institutional — and grants.”

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