TULSA | Exactly a century after a massacre targeting the black population of Tulsa, Joe Biden made a historic visit to this city in Oklahoma on Tuesday to “break the silence” and promise to bridge the still yawning racial divide in the United States.
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This massacre in 1921, in which a prosperous neighborhood populated by African Americans was razed to the ground by white men confident of their impunity, has “been forgotten in our history for too long.” As soon as it happened, there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory, ”denounced the Democratic president.
“From now on your fate will be known to all,” assured the septuagenarian, without going so far as to promise concrete measures of financial reparation to the many descendants of victims who came to listen to him.
Mr. Biden enjoys broad support among the black American population, to whom he has promised legislative progress in the wake of the great movement to raise awareness of racial inequalities, following the death of George Floyd last year.
On Tuesday, he became the first president to commemorate one of the darkest pages in U.S. history in person in Tulsa, in the presence of three hundred-year-old survivors.
The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the victims expected the president to “do justice” on behalf of those who did not survive, told AFP Kristi Williams, one of the between them. According to her, the country “has the opportunity to right the wrong” caused to its community.
On May 31, 1921, black men who had come to defend a young African American arrested and accused of assaulting a white woman faced hundreds of angry white protesters in court in Tulsa.
In a tense atmosphere, shots were fired, and the African Americans had fled to their neighborhood of Greenwood.
The next day, at dawn, white people had looted and burned businesses and homes in what was then nicknamed “Black Wall Street”, an example of economic success.
Like the economic losses caused, the human toll is difficult to estimate, but according to historians as many as 300 African Americans have been killed, and nearly 10,000 have lost their homes, without a single white official being convicted.
The police had even armed some attackers, according to the report of a commission of inquiry. In the end, the authorities went so far as to accuse the inhabitants of Greenwood of having instigated a riot.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced economic aid measures for the African-American population, which are supposed to facilitate their home ownership or the creation of businesses, among other things.
In the afternoon in Tulsa, the president also condemned the “absolutely unprecedented” restrictions on the voting rights of African Americans adopted by some conservative states.
Khalid Kamau, 44, had traveled from Georgia less to commemorate the massacre than to celebrate the past existence of “a prosperous and autonomous black community”.
“If it has existed once, it can exist again.”
In the streets, some signs recalled that “the lives of blacks matter”, or demanded the end of “generalized racism”.
Reverend Robert Turner, of whom the African-American Vernon Methodist Church is one of the few buildings in Greenwood to have escaped destruction in 1921, has started a petition calling for repairs.
“I hope that this country will finally take care of the citizens it has treated badly for centuries, namely African Americans,” he told AFP. In the United States, descendants of slaves make similar demands.
On Monday, Tulsa Mayor George Bynum issued a formal apology for “the municipality’s inability to protect our community in 1921”.
In this locality of Oklahoma, a southern slave state and one of the strongholds of the Ku Klux Klan, the effects of this destruction are still being felt today.
“When tourists visit Tulsa, they can’t believe how much segregation is still present, or how obvious racism is,” said Michelle Brown, educational programs manager at the local cultural center.
On April 19, some of the last hundred-year-old survivors traveled to Washington to testify before Congress and demand that the country recognize their suffering.
As early as 2001, a commission recommended that the residents of Greenwood receive compensation. So far, these appeals have gone unsuccessful.
For LaShaundra Haughton, 51, great-granddaughter of massacre survivors, “it’s time to heal, it’s time to tell the truth, it’s time to bring it all to light.”
A desire for transparency recently illustrated by the excavations undertaken to find the mass graves where the many black victims had been buried.