In one of the more somber moments of his presidency, President Joe Biden traveled to Oklahoma on Tuesday, June 1 on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a bloody and often overlooked racist attack that left more than 300 dead in the then-flourishing Tulsa community once referred to as “Black Wall Street.”
Ayesha Rascoe and Alana Wise of NPR reported on Biden’s visit, as well as the history of the attack that occurred between May 31 and June 1, 1921, when “an armed white mob attacked the all-Black district of Greenwood. The racist mob destroyed the area, leaving 40 square blocks in ruins and nearly 10,000 people homeless. A century later, it remains one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history.”
Speaking before a group that gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre, Biden said, “For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But 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.”
Biden explained that for decades following the racist attack on the Black citizens of Tulsa, the massacre wasn’t properly covered in the press or history books and was not well-known to the public. But that has thankfully begun to change in recent years thanks to shows like HBO’s Watchmen, as well as public discourse increasingly focusing on issues such as the historical precedents of systemic racism.
“During his visit, Biden met with survivors of the massacre — all children then, and now more than 100 years old,” Rascoe and Wise reported. “He also announced steps aimed at narrowing the racial wealth gap, including ordering the federal government to direct more contracts to small, disadvantaged businesses.”
Speaking of “untold bodies dumped into mass graves” and “families who, at the time, waited for hours and days to know the fate of their loved ones,” Biden said he hoped to finally bring some closure to the descendants of those who were killed and the few remaining survivors who gathered for the memorial.
“We can’t just choose what we want to know, and not what we should know,” he said. “I come here to help fill the silence because in silence wounds deepen.”