Washington, Jun 1 (EFE).- Joe Biden on Tuesday became the first US president in office to visit Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the anniversary of the racist massacre committed in that city 100 years ago, promising never again to forget this tragedy, which was seldom, if ever, discussed for decades.
During the unprecedented visit, Biden shared the spotlight with three survivors of the massacre – Viola Fletcher, 107; Hugo Van Ellis, 100; and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106, with whom he met in private.
The trio were children when a white mob attacked their neighborhood of Greenwood, where most of the residents were African American, murdering some 300 people and destroying more than 1,250 houses on May 31 and June 1, 1921.
The white mob had been deputized by local law enforcement and was backed by city officials. A black teen had been accused of assaulting a white elevator operator, and the enraged attackers indiscriminately fired on black residents while airplanes flew overhead dropping burning turpentine-soaked rags and dynamite.
The three survivors on Tuesday went to the Greenwood Cultural Center, which is devoted to commemorating the tragedy and where Biden gave what perhaps has been one of his best and most emotional speeches since taking office as president on Jan. 20.
Biden began his address making reference to Fletcher, Van Ellis and Randle to tell them that now their story will be known in depth and will no longer be wrapped in shadow.
“We should know the good, the bad, everything,” Biden said, adding “That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides.”
“In silence, wounds deepen,” the president went on to say. “As painful as it is, only in remembrance do wounds heal. We just have to choose to remember. Memorialize what happened here in Tulsa so it can’t be erased.”
During his speech, the president was interrupted several times by applause in an audience hanging on his every word.
One of those moments was when Biden categorically stated that the Tulsa incident “was not a riot. This was a massacre,” adding that “only with the truth, can come healing, justice and repair.”
The president described in his own words the horror experienced by the residents of Greenwood, which was known during the period when the massacre occurred as “the Black Wall Street” for its prosperity, adding that after the tragedy there was a clear effort to erase it from the memory of the local citizenry.
In addition, he said that the authorities adopted policies that prevented the neighborhood from recovering from the tragedy.
After the attack, up to 10,000 residents were displaced or put into internment camps and the massacre was legally termed a “riot” to prevent local black businesses from collecting on insurance claims.
To set an example, Biden announced a series of political and economic measures to end racial gaps, although – as has been habitual for him when making such announcements – he did not immediately provide details.
Perhaps of the greatest significance, although no definitive figures exist as yet, are the efforts of his administration to fight against voter suppression targeting minorities, as Republicans are attempting to do in a number of states where they are trying to restrict voting by non-supporters.
Biden said that June should be “a month of action on Capitol Hill” on voting rights legislation and he announced that Vice President Kamala Harris would lead his administration’s efforts to fight “the assault on the right to vote.”
In a Memorial Day speech, Biden had said that the GOP attack on the voting rights in more than a dozen states means that “democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world,” comments that he reiterated in Tulsa.
What the president did provide more details about were the measures announced on Tuesday by the administration to reduce economic gaps between the races.
Specifically, the Biden administration wants to foster home and small business ownership by people of color.
The White House cited a 2018 study by the Brookings Institution that found that most properties in majority-black neighborhoods are regularly valued at tens of thousands of dollars less than similar homes in predominately white areas.