President Biden detailed what he said was the lasting impact of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre on Black Americans and laid out steps his administration will take aimed at narrowing the racial wealth gap, after meeting Tuesday with survivors of the tragedy.
The president made the remarks at the Greenwood Cultural Center, located in the business district once known as Black Wall Street, where 100 years ago white mobs killed as many as 300 Black residents and destroyed the district’s roughly 35 city blocks. He is the first president to travel to Tulsa to commemorate the massacre. Mr. Biden issued a “Day of Remembrance” proclamation on Monday, committing to honor the legacy of the Greenwood community.
The president said actions like those of the white mobs in Tulsa contributed to what he described as the ways racism became embedded in the country’s laws and culture. He said many Black Americans lost out on financial security and generational wealth as a result of the attack, which he said was glossed over by elected officials and ignored by historians for decades.
“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know,” Mr. Biden said. “We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides.”
He paused for a moment of silence during his speech to honor the victims of what he said was a massacre, not a riot, as it had frequently been described.
Mr. Biden met privately with three survivors who were children at the time of the massacre: Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle.
The new measures that Mr. Biden described include increasing the share of federal contracts going to certain small, mostly minority- or women-owned businesses by 50% by 2026, which administration officials say would mean $100 billion more for such businesses. The Democratic administration is also expected to propose reversing steps taken by the Republican Trump administration to soften or revoke
-era regulations that cracked down on discrimination in housing.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge also will be charged with a new initiative that would seek to root out what the White House described as racial discrimination in the appraisal and homebuying process. Mr. Biden said he will task Vice President
with leading efforts in Congress to set new national minimum standards for voting and make other changes to election rules.
He didn’t address some issues championed by progressives in the Democratic Party and civil rights groups, such as canceling student debt. “You cannot begin to address the racial wealth gap without addressing the student-loan debt crisis,” NAACP President
said in a statement. “You just can’t address one without the other. Plain and simple.”
Some civil rights groups and survivors of the massacre also have advocated for Mr. Biden to consider reparations for them and their descendants. Administration officials said the president supports a broader study of whether to extend reparations to the descendants of enslaved people in the U.S.
Asked about reparations, Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy White House press secretary, said Tuesday the president believes “that first and foremost, the task in front of us is to root out systemic racism.”
Following the protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd last year, Mr. Biden said on the campaign trail that he would make racial equity—which he describes as a level playing field for all Americans—a centerpiece of his agenda. As president, he signed an executive order on his first day in office that directs agencies to review barriers that those in underserved communities face in accessing government benefits.
The administration has also talked up parts of the Covid-19 relief package Mr. Biden signed into law, including more investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and a child tax credit aimed at reducing child poverty, particularly among Black and Latino households, as steps to reduce the racial wealth gap between those groups and whites.
Mr. Biden also included, in his roughly $4.5 trillion proposals for infrastructure and social programs, funding for workforce training that gives priority to those in underserved communities, expanding broadband access, a new grant program aimed at helping small Black-owned businesses gain access to capital and universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.
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Lawmakers have been discussing an infrastructure deal but haven’t reached agreement on how to proceed. Some Republicans have raised concerns about Mr. Biden’s efforts to take race into account in policy-making.
“Many people surrounding the president believe that they can look at an individual and tell everything about them that they need to know, if the viewer knows the race, gender or sexuality,” said
Sen. John Kennedy
(R., La.). “I don’t think that’s America. I don’t think that’s why the American people look at each other.”
Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, said she thought critics were misunderstanding the administration’s intended outcomes.
“There are some people who want to misinterpret the meaning of equity as somehow making the playing field un-level, when in fact it’s just the opposite,” she said. “The idea is to give people a level starting place.”
—Andrew Ackerman and Eliza Collins contributed to this article.
Write to Tarini Parti at Tarini.Parti@wsj.com
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Source: WSJ – US News