President Joe Biden was in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Tuesday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Biden is the first sitting U.S. President to visit Tulsa and mark the anniversary of the tragic events that occurred 100 years ago.
The president gave a very public acknowledgment of the murders, destruction, and lingering cultural and economic damage from the Massacre. An assault that destroyed a community known as Black Wall Street.
He delivered an often wrenching, brutally detailed description of the hushed-up massacre, the racism that has threaded through American history, and the modern attack on voting rights he said threatens democracy itself.
“Hell was unleashed. Literal hell was unleashed,” Biden said in Tulsa, referring to the murders of about 300 Black people and leveling of their Greenwood business neighborhood after a trumped-up charge of a teenage Black boy harming a white girl. Some 1,100 Black homes were destroyed in 24 hours, and 10,000 people were left destitute and homeless after the Black boomtown was demolished, he said.
Survivors, Biden noted after meeting with several of them, were put in internment camps and warned never to say they had been there or “we will come and get you.”
The event – described by historians as the worst single attack on African Americans in U.S. history – hasn’t been taught much in classrooms, being part of the Oklahoma curriculum only since 2002. A six-year legal campaign by lawyers working pro bono was rejected by U.S. and international courts.
“For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place,” said Biden.
But “just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place,” the president added for emphasis. “And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing. Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they can’t be buried – no matter how hard people try.”
The president, later in his speech launched into an attack on those seeking to restrict voter access and voting rights. Republican lawmakers around the country, he said, are going after the right to vote “with an intensity and aggressiveness we have not seen in a long, long time.”
Biden also announced he was naming Vice President Kamala Harris to head the effort to protect voting rights.
View President Biden’s remarks in their entirety here.