Joe Biden in Tulsa, scene of a long-forgotten racist massacre

People pray with their hands on a wall at the historic African Methodist Episcopal Church in Vernon, Tulsa, Oklahoma, May 31, 2021. JOHN LOCHER / AP

“We will not forget. “ Joe Biden made Monday, May 31, Remembrance Day for the racist Tulsa massacre that had taken place a century earlier. The president was due to go there the next day. Long ignored by the history of the United States, this bloodbath took place over two days, May 31 and 1is June 1921, in this then very prosperous city of Oklahoma, a young state created in 1907, already known for its oil resources and where a large African-American community had settled to flee the racism of the southern states.

A minor incident between Dick Rowland, a young black shoe shiner, and the operator of a white elevator, had triggered a lynching call relayed by a local newspaper. African-American veterans of the first war wanted to prevent the execution by a mob of whites of the young man, then in the hands of the municipal police. A gunshot, the origin of which has never been identified, had however triggered an incredible outburst of violence in the district of Greenwood inhabited exclusively by blacks, nicknamed “Black Wall Street” for its economic dynamism.

In his proclamation on Monday, Joe Biden drew on the most often advanced toll, that of three hundred dead for the African-American community. Burned down, bombarded even by the first airplanes used in agriculture for the spreading of fertilizers and pesticides, Greenwood had been reduced to ashes. More than eight thousand of the eleven thousand blacks who resided there had been driven out.

No White pursued

The use of mass graves or the bodies thrown into the Arkansas River had prevented more accurate accounting. None of the whites responsible for what had been the height of racial violence in a then segregated America had been prosecuted. A lead screed then fell on the city, the local newspaper, the Tulsa Tribune, systematically ignoring the drama in its commemorative chronicles.

The President of the United States recalled Monday that everything had been done to keep the wounds gaping, citing in particular the responsibility of the municipality as the federal state in the introduction of standards and rules that had increased the cost of a possible reconstruction of the devastated district. “The attack on black families and black wealth in Greenwood has persisted through the generations”, acknowledged Joe Biden.

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Joe Biden Tulsa scene longforgotten racist massacre

 
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