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Biden: Attack On Greenwood 'Was A Massacre'

Chris Polansky

Updated 3:07 p.m. to correct the pool reporter's quote attributed to President Joe Biden.  

President Joe Biden toured Greenwood Cultural Center and met with the living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre after arriving in Tulsa early Tuesday afternoon.

Greenwood Cultural Center Program Director Mechelle Brown-Burdex led Biden on the tour, showing him the history of "the most successful, prosperous Black-owned business district in the country."

Brown-Burdex told Biden the entire district was destroyed by a white mob within 24 hours, spanning May 31 to June 1, 1921.

"It wasn't a riot. It was a massacre," Biden said.

Biden spent around five minutes in the Greenwood Cultural Center's exhibition hall before Brown-Burdex took him to meet the three known living survivors of the massacre: 100-year-old Hughes Van Ellis, 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield "Mother" Randle and 107-year-old Viola "Mother" Fletcher.

During his tour of Greenwood Cultural Center, Biden also discussed the interstate built through the district in the 1970s. 

"In this reconstruction plan I put together, we have the ability to have money to go back and take out those facilities," Biden said referring to highways. "And reconstruct — what we're trying to do is do a thing — like a Big Dig, a tunnel to have, make that parkland, compacting the neighborhoods again. And it's something that, I don't know whether it would be appropriate here, but, anyway."

The White House said Biden met with Terence Crutcher Foundation Executive Director Dr. Tiffany Crutcher shortly after his 1:07 p.m. arrival at Tulsa International Airport. He also participated in a photo line with Gov. Kevin Stitt, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, City Councilor Kara Joy McKee, Choctaw Nation Gov. Gary Batton, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat, Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill and Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews.

Biden is expected to deliver remarks at 3:15 p.m.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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