- Biden gave remarks in Oklahoma to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre.
- A mob killed hundreds of Black Tulsans and destroyed countless homes and businesses.
- Biden outlined steps the White House will take to tackle race-based income inequality.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
President Joe Biden headed to Oklahoma on Tuesday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the devastating Tulsa massacre, one of the deadliest race riots in United States history.
Biden, along with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge and senior White House advisors Susan Rice and Cedric Richmond, toured the Greenwood Community Center and gave remarks in the afternoon.
As Biden noted, he is the first president ever to travel to Tulsa to mark an anniversary of the race massacre. He received a standing ovation from the assembled audience when he held a moment of silence, and said: “My fellow Americans, this was not a riot, this was a massacre.”
Biden acknowledged that the story of the massacre has “told in silence” and “cloaked in darkness,” for decades adding, “But just because history is silent doesn’t mean that it did not take place And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing.”
“To all those lost so many years ago, to all the descendants of those who suffered, to the community, that’s why we’re here, to make sure America knows the story in full,” Biden said.
Biden also unveiled new White House initiatives to tackle the racial wealth gap in the US during his speech on Tuesday, which include measures to support Black-owned businesses and combat systemic housing discrimination and redlining.
In the 1921 massacre, a mob made up of white residents, with support from city officials, killed and injured hundreds of Black Tulsans and looted and destroyed countless businesses, eviscerating a vibrant business community including a street dubbed Black Wall Street.
The massacre followed mounting racial animus towards Black Americans, a resurgence in the presence of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and aggressive efforts to disenfranchise and segregate Black citizens in the state during the Jim Crow era.
The incident itself was set off after a white female elevator operator accused a 19-year-old Black shoeshiner named Dick Rowland, who worked in the Greenwood district, of sexually assaulting her on May 30, 1921. Her allegation prompted a lynch mob to descend on the courthouse where Rowland was being held. The charges against Rowland were dropped after the massacre.
In all, the mob is estimated to have killed as many as 300 Black residents of Tulsa and burned down huge swaths of the Greenwood business district, a neighborhood of the city where Black-owned and managed businesses thrived. The riot also displaced thousands of Black Tulsans, with the Red Cross estimating that over 1,200 homes in the area were burned down and hundreds more looted.
“Hell was unleashed, literal hell was unleashed,” Biden said in his speech.
The history of the massacre was swept under the rug for decades, with local media outlets and scholars discouraged from studying or shedding light on the incident. And, as Insider’s Taylor Ardery reported, the massacre was even excluded from many Oklahoma public school curriculums.
“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know, and not what we should know,” Biden said, acknowledging the “clear effort” to “erase” the massacre “from our memory, our collective memories, from the news and every conversation.”
Now, local community leaders, advocates, and the few living survivors of the attack are calling on the US to confront the painful history of the attack and are advocating for financial reparations for the lives and businesses destroyed.
City officials are also exhuming gravesites where massacre victims were believed to be buried for archaeological research and DNA testing.