Joe Biden has become the first sitting president to acknowledge and participate in commemoration events for the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The attack, which took place 100 years ago, is considered one of the bloodiest episodes of racist violence in American history. Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, a white mob descended on the affluent Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, also known as the “Black Wall Street,” where they burned city blocks to the ground, looted homes and businesses, and killed approximately 300 Black residents. The horrific events began after a white woman accused a Black man of assault; though her claims were never proven.
According to ABC News, Biden toured the Greenwood Cultural Center alongside Vice President Kamala Harris. He also met privately will the three remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre: Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, who are between the ages of 101 and 107.
“It was an innocent interaction that turned into a terrible, terrible headline allegation of a Black male, teenager attacking a white female teenager,” Biden said in his speech at the center. “Literal hell was unleashed … A mob tied a Black man by the waist to the back of their truck with his head banging along the pavement as they drove off. A murdered Black family draped over the fence of their home, outside. An elderly couple knelt by their bed, praying to God with their heart and their soul, when they were shot in the back of their heads. Private planes dropping explosives, the first and only domestic aerial assault of its kind on an American city, here in Tulsa.”
Biden acknowledged that the massacre has been whitewashed or simply ignored over the past century, but argued “just because history is silent, it does not mean that it did not take place.” He also emphasized that the attack was a “massacre,” rather than a “riot,” which is how many of his predecessors have described the events.
“We can’t just choose what we want to know, and not what we should know,” said Biden. “I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen.”
POTUS also announced Harris will lead the administration’s effort to protect voting rights, as Republican lawmakers continue to push for legislation that restricts ballot access. Though many GOP members say these kinds of measures are necessary to prevent election fraud, critics say they’re main objective is to limit voter turnout among racial minorities.
“In the last election, more people voted than ever before. Since then, more than 380 bills have been introduced across the country that would make it harder for Americans to vote,” Harris said in a statement. “Our administration will not stand by when confronted with any effort that keeps Americans from voting … We must protect the fundamental right to vote for all Americans regardless of where they live.”
Joe Biden is far from perfect, but this is certainly a welcome gesture from the President of the United States.