One hundred years after the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre, US President Joe Biden paid a historic visit to the site on Tuesday 1, in a new effort to advance his racial inequality agenda.
The Democrat was the first US president to come to town to remember the tragedy in which white supremacist groups invaded and bombed the Greenwood district, the country’s most prosperous black neighborhood at the time, after quitting ‘a black shoe shiner has been accused of harassing a young white woman.
In one of the worst racial crimes in American history, over 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed and approximately 300 people were killed.
“What happened was not a riot, it was a massacre,” Biden said. The speech honoring the victims came after he met three survivors, Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle, who are between 101 and 107 years old, and visited a local cultural center.
The Democrat recalled the thriving community of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, before the night of violence between May 31 and June 1, 1921. Local success was exemplified by Lauren Usher’s opening speech, a descendant of the victims of the massacre.
At the time, his family owned a hotel worth $ 2 million (R $ 10.3 million) in current figures – to date no one has been punished for the crimes and the companies of insurance refused to cover financial damage.
Stressing the importance of small business owners, Biden announced an increase in federal spending to hire small businesses classified by the government as disadvantaged, including those with black owners. Today, the amount is equivalent to 10%, and the target is to increase to 15%, which would represent 100 billion US dollars (514.6 billion reais) more over the next five years, according to the calculations. of the White House. to the CNN TV network.
The president also announced an effort by his administration to alleviate housing discrimination, citing in particular the inequalities caused by road projects and the devaluation of properties owned by blacks against those by whites.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge will coordinate the creation of a working group to come up with solutions to tackle racial discrimination in housing. On Friday (25), he announced a $ 100 million (BRL 514.6 million) initiative to encourage black people to buy real estate in areas historically occupied by white residents due to biased zoning laws or banking discrimination.
Additionally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will issue two Fair Housing Act rules that will reverse the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken protections for minorities. In his speech, Biden pointed out that today the percentage of land ownership by blacks is lower than when the law was passed in 1968.
The speech was also marked by the need to remember and recognize the Tulsa massacre. “You are the three known survivors of a story seen vaguely in the mirror,” the Democrat said. “But not anymore. From now on, your story will be known to all.
Due to the significance of the date and the current American context – particularly after cases such as the death of George Floyd highlighted police violence against blacks – Biden’s visit was surrounded by expectations. Certain points considered important by the militants were however omitted. One, the absence of which has been strongly criticized by the Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other civil rights groups, was that there had been no Announcement of a student debt cancellation plan, which disproportionately affects black students.
While whites account for 54% of student debt, according to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, black students owe, on average, US $ 25,000 (R $ 128,600) more. Four years after graduation, 48% of black students owe about 12.5% more than they took in business and 29% have to pay $ 350 (R $ 1,801) or more per month for cover that debt.
“Student debt continues to stifle the economic prosperity of black Americans across the country,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP chairman, said in a statement. “It is not possible to begin to tackle the racial wealth gap without tackling the student loan debt crisis.”
No specific measures have been announced for Greenwood, nor reparations for the descendants of the massacre, as the effects of destruction continue to be felt in the city, part of Oklahoma, the southern slave state and stronghold. of the Ku Klux Klan. The inequalities between the predominantly black north of Tulsa and the predominantly white south are glaring.
“When tourists visit Tulsa, they can’t believe how much segregation still exists or the racism that is manifesting itself,” Michelle Brown, director of educational programs at the local cultural center, told AFP news agency. “It hasn’t changed, we’re still separated,” says Billie Parker, 50, a black woman who grew up in Tulsa. She says the community remains at a disadvantage compared to the city’s white citizens. The repair, she said, could help Greenwood improve its schools.
Many say it is time for the state to help the neighborhood regain its prosperity, lost in the flames of 1921. For Kristi Williams, activist and descendant of victims, the country now has the opportunity to correct the mistake 100 years ago, when “they crippled our homes, our economic development, our land was taken from us.” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday that Biden “supports a study on reparations, but believes that, above all, the task ahead is to eradicate systemic racism.”
The desire for reparation had already been expressed by some of the last survivors who traveled to Washington on April 19 to testify before Congress. On Capitol Hill, they asked the country to recognize their suffering. “I am 107 years old and have never seen justice. I hope one day I will see it, ”Viola Fletcher told members of Congress. For LaShaundra Haughton, 51, great-granddaughter of massacre survivors, “it’s time to heal, it’s time to tell the truth, it’s time to bring it all out.”
During his speech, Biden also recalled that racism remains a great threat to the United States, noting that American intelligence services, both in his administration and that of Donald Trump, rank white supremacists as the greatest threat. interior of the country.
The Democrat also took the opportunity to reinforce the importance of a bill in Congress that deals with access to the vote. He urged members of Congress to endorse the text, which is gaining prominence amid a Republican movement to enact legislation that hinders access to the vote, especially for blacks and Latinos.
Efforts to advance voting access laws will be led by Vice President Kamala Harris. In a statement released after Biden’s speech, she said that since the last election, which saw a record turnout, more than 380 bills aimed at making it difficult to vote had been introduced across the country. . “These projects seek to reduce options that make voting more convenient and accessible, including advance and postal voting,” he said.
Despite the criticism, Biden’s visit stands out in two ways. First, by giving visibility to a little-known episode, even in history books. Then, for his 99th birthday, contrast, when Trump was still President of the United States.
Criticizing anti-racist protests, the Republican attacked Black Lives Matters and other racial justice movements for organizing a political rally in Tulsa on June 19, called “Juneteenth” in English, which celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. United in 1865 – an event has just been postponed.