Biden in Tulsa: “This Was Not a Riot. This Was a Massacre”

On centennial of white mob attack, president pledges to advance racial equity.

Evan Vucci/AP

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During his Tuesday visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a massacre that killed scores of Black people and destroyed a once-thriving Black community, President Biden delivered a wide-ranging address on racial injustice, promising to strengthen voting rights, and help close the racial wealth gap.

Biden noted that he was the first sitting president to visit Greenwood, the Tulsa community known as “Black Wall Street” before it was destroyed in 1921. In advance of his speech, he met with the three known living survivors of the massacre: Viola “Mother” Fletcher, Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellism and Lessie “Mother Randle” Benningfield Randle.

“My fellow Americans, this was not a riot,” Biden said, to applause from the crowd of about 200. “This was a massacre.”

Biden said his administration would work to reduce inequity in home appraisals, enforce Fair Housing Act protections, and increase the share of federal contracts awarded to small, disadvantaged businesses. He did not mention student loan forgiveness, even as civil rights groups like the NAACP are pressuring him to cancel student debt.

Biden also said that Vice President Kamala Harris would lead his administration’s efforts to strengthen voting rights, and that he would “fight like heck” to ensure the passage of the For the People Act, an ambitious democracy reform bill.

Acknowledging the white supremacist currents in modern American culture, Biden referred to the Tulsa massacre as “an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through line that exists today still.”

“I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence, wounds deepen,” he said. “As painful as it is, only in remembrance do wounds heal. We just have to choose to remember. We memorialize what happened here in Tulsa so it can’t be erased.”

 

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