Joe Biden to honour victims of Tulsa race massacre

President to mark event where white mob wiped out thriving black community

US president Joe Biden will take part in a remembrance of one of America's darkest moments of racial violence on Tuesday, marking the 100th anniversary of a massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which wiped out a thriving black community.

Mr Biden’s visit, in which he will grieve for the more than 300 black people killed at the hands of a white mob a century ago, comes amid a national reckoning on racial justice.

And it will stand in stark contrast to the last presidential visit to Tulsa, which took place last year.

After suspending his campaign rallies after the onset of the pandemic, then president Donald Trump chose Tulsa as the site of his return and picked June 19th, the holiday known as Juneteenth that commemorates the end of slavery in the US.


Upon receiving fierce criticism, Mr Trump postponed the event by a day, though the rally was still marked by protests outside and empty seats inside the downtown arena.

Mr Biden will be the first president to be part of the remembrances of what happened in what used to be known as Black Wall Street.

On May 31st and June 1st in 1921, white residents and civil society leaders looted and burned to the ground the Greenwood district and used planes to drop projectiles on it.

The attackers killed up to 300 black Tulsans and forced survivors for a time into internment camps overseen by National Guard members.

Burned bricks and a fragment of a church basement are about all that survive today of the more than 30-block historically black district.

Despite its horror, the massacre in Tulsa has only recently reentered the national discourse — and the presidential visit will serve to put an even brighter spotlight on the event.

"This is so important because we have to recognise what we have done if we are going to be otherwise," said Eddie Glaude, chair of the Centre for African American Studies at Princeton University.

He added Mr Biden’s visit “has to be more than symbolic. To tell the truth is the precondition for reconciliation, and reconciliation is the basis for repair.”

Historians say the trouble 100 years ago in Tulsa began after a local newspaper drummed up a furore over a black man accused of stepping on a white girl’s foot.

When black Tulsans showed up with guns to prevent the man’s lynching, white residents responded with overwhelming force.

A grand jury investigation at the time concluded, without evidence, that unidentified agitators had given Tulsa’s African Americans both their firearms and what was described as their mistaken belief “in equal rights, social equality and their ability to demand the same”.

Tensions persist in Tulsa ahead of Mr Biden’s appearance.

Organisers called off a headline commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, saying no agreement could be reached over monetary payments to three survivors of the deadly attack. It highlights broader debates over reparations for racial injustice.

Disagreements among black leaders in Tulsa over the handling of commemoration events and millions of dollars in donations have led to two disparate groups planning separate slates of events marking the massacre’s 100th anniversary.

Mr Biden, who served as vice president to the nation’s first black president and selected a black woman as his own vice president, backs a study of reparations, both in Tulsa and more broadly, but has not committed to supporting payments.

He recently declared the need for Americans to confront its ugly past, saying: “We must acknowledge that there can be no realisation of the American dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery, and the centuries-long campaign of violence, fear, and trauma wrought upon African American people in this country.” – PA