President Joe Biden said the country needs to come to terms with its dark history around racial injustice during a visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst instances of racial violence in the nation’s history.
"You can't just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything," Biden said. "That's what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides, and we are a great nation. The only way to build common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild. I come here to help fill the silence because in silence wounds deepen."
Biden, the first sitting president to travel to Tulsa to mark the solemn day, said he hoped the visit would draw attention to a chapter of American history that has largely been ignored. The massacre started on the evening of May 31 and continued into the afternoon of June 1, 1921, when a mob of white people killed several hundred Black residents and destroyed their affluent neighborhood in Tulsa, displacing thousands in the community.
"The history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent, that doesn't mean that it did not take place," Biden said. "While darkness can hide much, it erases nothing."
While in Tulsa, Biden met with three surviving members of the Greenwood community who lived through the massacre — Viola “Mother” Fletcher, Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis and Lessie “Mother Randle” Benningfield Randle — who are now between the ages of 101 and 107.
Biden used the speech to blast state legislatures across the country for pushing laws that would put new restrictions on voting, which opponents say would disproportionately limit voting access for people of color. Biden said the bills are an assault on democracy and that he will use every tool he has to push for voting rights legislation to be passed this month by Congress.
"This sacred right is under assault with incredible intensity like I've never seen," Biden said.
Before his remarks, Biden toured the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa and met with Black members of the community who survived the 1921 massacre. The event was also attended by Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge, White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and senior adviser Cedric Richmond.
In conjunction with Biden's visit, the White House announced Tuesday that the administration was taking several steps aimed at narrowing the racial wealth gap, including an interagency effort to tackle racial discrimination in the housing market. The White House also said it will “use the federal government’s purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent, translating to an additional $100 billion over five years.”
The White House noted several provisions of Biden's infrastructure and jobs plan that it said would help address the racial wealth gap, including tens of billions of dollars for community-led redevelopment and transportation projects.
The new steps do not include a plan to address the student debt crisis, which NAACP President Derrick Johnson called "a key issue at the core" of the wealth gap between Blacks and whites in the country.
“Student loan debt continues to suppress the economic prosperity of Black Americans across the nation,” Johnson said. “You cannot begin to address the racial wealth gap without addressing the student loan debt crisis. You just can't address one without the other. Plain and simple. President Biden's budget fails to address the student debt crisis.”
An administration official previewing the new actions said Monday that he had no announcements to make about student debt.
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