Biden to Meet Tulsa Massacre Survivors, Discuss Racial Wealth Gap

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President Biden is expected to detail steps his administration will take aimed at narrowing the racial wealth gap, as he meets Tuesday with survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma and participates in events marking the centennial of the tragedy.

The president will make 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. Mr. Biden issued a “Day of Remembrance” proclamation on Monday, committing to honor the legacy of the Greenwood community.

The White House said Mr. Biden will meet 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 will describe, according to the White House, 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 Obama -era regulations that cracked down on discrimination in housing.

People take photos of posters of survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in the Greenwood district of the city on Tuesday.

Photo: andrew caballero-reynolds/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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 home-buying process.

Administration officials said ahead of his visit to Tulsa that Mr. Biden didn’t plan to announce new measures on 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 Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “You just can’t address one without the other. Plain and simple.”

The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 destroyed hundreds of Black-owned businesses and homes in the city’s Greenwood District. A century later, entrepreneurs and activists are working to preserve “Black Wall Street’s” memory while pushing to rebuild and recover what was lost. Photo: Rob Alcaraz/The Wall Street Journal

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 prioritizes those in underserved communities, expanding broadband access, a new grant program aimed at helping small Black-owned businesses gain access to capital and universal pre-kindergarten for three- and four-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.”

The Tulsa Massacre | 100 Years Later

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