On centennial of Tulsa race massacre, Biden announces plan to narrow racial wealth gap in emotional speech

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden Tuesday announced new initiatives to address the racial wealth gap in the country on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre.

The plan focuses on home and small business ownership in communities of color and disadvantaged communities, according to the White House.

He also visited Tulsa on Tuesday and was the first president to participate in remembrances of the destruction of what was known as “Black Wall Street.”

“My fellow Americans this was not a riot, this was a massacre,” said Biden.

An emotional Biden declared Tuesday that he had “come to fill the silence” about one of the nation’s darkest — and long suppressed — moments of racial violence.

“Just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing … Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they can’t be buried no matter how hard people try,” said Biden.

The president spoke about the legacy of racism in the United States and is expected to acknowledge the challenges going forward, an administration official said, noting he cannot fulfill his promise to restore the “soul” of the nation without recognizing the complexity of its history.

“We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nation do. They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation.”

After Biden left, there was a spontaneous singing by some audience members of a famous civil rights march song, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”

On Tuesday, the president, joined by top Black advisers, met privately with three surviving members of the Greenwood community who lived through the violence, the White House said. Viola “Mother” Fletcher, Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis and Lessie “Mother Randle” Benningfield Randle are all between the ages of 101 and 107.

Biden said their experience had been “a story seen in the mirror dimly.”

“But no longer,” the president told the survivors. “Now your story will be known in full view.”

 In 1921 — on May 31 and June 1 — Tulsa’s white residents and civil society leaders looted and burned to the ground the Greenwood district and used planes to drop projectiles on it. Scores of Black lives were lost, homes and businesses burned to the ground, and a thriving Black community was gutted by the mob.

Biden says he intends to address discrimination in the housing market by looking at inequity in home appraisals and to grow federal contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses by 50%. The administration says that will translate to an additional $100 billion over five years.

The administration also released new information on Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposals to “create jobs and build wealth in communities of color.”

They include:

  • A $10 billion Community Revitalization Fund to support community-led civic infrastructure projects
  • $15 billion for new grants and technical assistance to support the planning, removal, or retrofitting of existing transportation infrastructure
  • A Neighborhood Homes Tax Credit to attract private investment in the development and rehabilitation of affordable homes for low- and moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners
  • $5 billion for the Unlocking Possibilities Program, a new grant program that awards flexible funding to jurisdictions that take steps to reduce barriers to producing affordable housing and expand housing choices for people with low or moderate incomes
  • $31 billion in small business programs that will increase access to capital for small businesses and provide mentoring, networking, and other forms of technical assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged businesses

However, the violence visited upon Tulsa’s Black community didn’t become part of the American story. Instead, it was pushed down, unremembered and untaught until efforts decades later started bringing it into the light. And even this year, with the 100th anniversary of the massacre being recognized, it’s still an unfamiliar history to many — something historians say has broader repercussions.

Several hundred people milled around Greenwood Avenue in front of the historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church awaiting Biden’s arrival at the nearby Greenwood Cultural Center. Some vendors were selling memorabilia, including Black Lives Matter hats, shirts and flags under a bridge of the interstate that cuts through the district.

The names and pictures of Black men killed by police hung on a chain-link fence next to the church, including Eric Harris and Terrence Crutcher in Tulsa.

Outside, Latasha Sanders, 33, of Tulsa, brought her five children and a nephew in hopes of spotting Biden.

“It’s been 100 years, and this is the first we’ve heard from any U.S. president,” she said. “I brought my kids here today just so they could be a part of history and not just hear about it, and so they can teach generations to come.”

In a proclamation on Monday, Biden asked all Americans to “reflect on the deep roots of racial terror in our Nation and recommit to the work of rooting out systemic racism across our country.”

Biden, who was vice president to the nation’s first Black president and who chose a Black woman as his own vice president, backs a study of reparations, both in Tulsa and more broadly, but has not committed to supporting payments. He recently declared the need for America to confront its past, saying, “We must acknowledge that there can be no realization of the American dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery and the centuries-long campaign of violence, fear and trauma wrought upon African American people in this country.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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