Biden to 'shine a light' on Tulsa Race Massacre with remarks, meeting with survivors
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.
The president will privately meet with survivors, tour the Greenwood Culture Center and deliver remarks, in which he’ll announce new actions his administration is taking to narrow the racial wealth gap between Black and white Americans.
Biden’s remarks will “shine a light” on the tragedy 100 years later, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One en route to Tulsa.
“Frankly, he plans to discuss his shared sense of frustration and pain that justice has been denied to these families for so long,” she said.
She continued, “He will explain that we need to know our history from the original sin of slavery through the Tulsa Race Massacre to racial discrimination in housing in order to build common ground, to truly repair and rebuild.”
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.”
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.
Upon deplaning Tuesday, Biden took photos with several local officials, including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and leaders from several Tribal Nations.
The president is slated to propose a broader agenda to address racial inequities beyond Tulsa in his remarks — starting with atoning for the federal government.
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.”
ABC News’ Molly Nagle contributed to this report.
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