The Phnom Penh Post
Biden decries Tulsa massacre on 100th anniversary
PRESIDENT Joe Biden led emotional commemorations on June 1 to honour victims of the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, saying the US must learn from one of the worst episodes of racist violence in the country’s history.
The Democratic leader marked the centenary of the massacre by meeting survivors in the city, after the White House announced new initiatives including billions of dollars in grants to address racial disparities in wealth, home ownership and small business ownership.
“This was not a riot, this was a massacre,” Biden said to loud applause. “[It was] among the worst in our history – but not the only one and, for too long, forgotten by our history.
“As soon as it happened, there was a clear effort to erase it from our collective memories … for a long time the schools in Tulsa didn’t even teach it, let alone schools elsewhere.”
On May 31, 1921, a group of Black men went to the Tulsa courthouse to defend a young African American man accused of assaulting a white woman. They found themselves facing a mob of hundreds of furious white people.
Tensions spiked and shots were fired, and the African Americans retreated to their neighbourhood, Greenwood.
The next day, at dawn, white men looted and burned the neighbourhood, at the time so prosperous it was called Black Wall Street.
In 2001, a commission created to study the tragedy concluded that Tulsa authorities themselves had armed some of the white rioters.
The mayor of Tulsa formally apologised this week for the city government’s failure to protect the community.
Historians say that as many as 300 African American residents lost their lives, and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless.
In April, some of the last survivors of the Tulsa massacre testified before US Congress and asked that the country recognise their suffering.
The 2001 commission recommended that Greenwood residents receive compensation, but reparations have not been paid, and Biden did not address the subject directly.
Beyond financial compensation, city residents were counting on Biden’s visit to bring moreattentiontoatragedythatlongremained taboo.
Tulsa has also begun to excavate mass graves, where many Black victims of the massacre are buried, in an effort to shed more light on the city’s dark past.