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In Race Massacre Commemoration Speech, Biden Calls On Americans To Face Dark Chapters In History

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President Joe Biden on Tuesday became the first sitting president to visit Tulsa to commemorate the Tulsa Race Massacre, arguably the worst racist attack in American history.

White mobs, many deputized and armed by local officials, burned the Black community of Greenwood to the ground May 31 and June 1, 1921. They killed as many as 300 residents and took thousands more to internment camps.

Before speaking to an audience of roughly 200 people at the Greenwood Cultural Center, Biden toured the institution, which preserves the heritage of the prosperous community known as Black Wall Street. He also spoke with the three living survivors of the massacre.

Biden's remarks at times included graphic descriptions of the attack on Greenwood, once deemed the "Tulsa Race Riot" so insurers did not have to pay claims of Black residents who lost everything.

"My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre," Biden said to applause.

Biden said the hate that sparked the Tulsa Race Massacre still exists today and called white supremacist violence the greatest threat to the U.S. right now.

Biden also called on the nation to come to terms with the past and help communities of color move forward.

As part of his remarks, Biden noted the destruction of Greenwood put Black Tulsans years behind white residents in building wealth. While Greenwood rebuilt, it soon ran into new problems, like redlining and an interstate built through the district.

"Chronic underinvestment from state and local governments denied Greenwood even just a chance of rebuilding. We must find the courage to change the things we know we can change," Biden said.

Biden touted the new White House plan aimed at closing America's racial wealth gap. And he suggested the interstate running through Greenwood could be part of his plan to move or tear down some highways cutting communities of color off from economic opportunities.

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.
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