After giving a passionate speech to commemorate the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre that called out the “horrific” history of racism in the U.S. more fiercely than any of his predecessors, President Joe Biden is quietly telling insiders not to put much faith in Congress passing reparations for Black America.
Biden allegedly made the comments when he met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) after the June 1 speech, Politico reported. The CBC has been pushing to pass the H.R. 40 bill, which would establish a commission “to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans” to recompense for the brutality and lingering effects of the institution of slavery. As a candidate, Biden said he would support a study on reparations.
“He didn’t disagree with what we’re doing,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence, the second vice-chair of the CBC, in a Politico interview. “He did talk about his plate [being] full with trying to get the infrastructure bill passed and that he really wanted to make sure that he could get that through before he took on anything else.”
H.R. 40’s name is derived from the unfulfilled promise of the U.S. government to give Black Americans 40 acres and a mule after slavery. It has been floundering in Congress since it was first introduced by late Rep. John Conyers of Michigan in 1989.
Biden was introduced by Lauren Usher – a descendant of J.B. Stratford, whose hotel in Tulsa’s Greenwood District was burned to the ground before he had to flee for his life and was then falsely indicted of inciting a riot. The president railed against covering up the hateful violence by an angry white mob that decimated the 35-block Greenwood District in 1921, once so prosperous it was nicknamed Black Wall Street.
“Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they cannot be buried, no matter how hard people try,” Biden said during the speech “Only with truth can come healing … Just because history is silent, it does not mean that it did not take place … hell was unleashed, literal hell was unleashed.”
The 46th commander-in-chief went on to describe in detail some of the heinous acts the mob committed, including murdering hundreds of Black Tulsa residents. He also outlined how much generational wealth the massacre had cost Black Wall Street’s residents and their descendants.
“This story isn’t about the loss of life, but a loss of living, of wealth and prosperity and possibilities that still reverberates today,” Biden said. “Imagine all those hotels and dinners and mom-and-pop shops that could have been passed down this past 100 years. Imagine what could have been done for Black families in Greenwood, financial security and generational wealth.”
While Biden outlined several pieces of legislation his administration is working on to help close the racial wealth gap, he stopped short of mentioning one major word people wanted to hear: REPARATIONS. The omission didn’t go unnoticed.
“I personally would have liked to hear the word reparations. I think that he was very strategic in the words that he used. He used the word repair,” said Nehemiah Frank, a descendant and founder of The Black Wall Street Times in Tulsa, in a Politico interview. “If you want to pull the people together, you can’t fully help Black people. That’s how I feel about it. If you want to make Black folks happy, you’re going to piss a lot of Americans off.”
Now, based on Politico’s report, Biden is saying reparations likely won’t happen. Rep. Lawrence said Biden’s biggest concern is “getting it (H.R. 40) through the Senate.”
This isn’t the first time survivors of the Tulsa Massacre and their descendants have had their hopes dashed about receiving recompense for their many years of pain and suffering.
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Two years after the publication of a report on the massacre by the Oklahoma Commission in 2001 which held the state responsible, civil rights attorneys Johnnie Cochran, Professor Charles Ogletree and Willie Gary filed a lawsuit in federal court for reparations, The Undefeated reported. Many more survivors were still alive in 2001 who told their stories, but the case was thrown out in 2005 with a federal court saying the statute of limitations had expired.
The irony of Biden’s passionate speech and the lack of legislative action on reparations wasn’t lost on those who’ve been waiting for America to finally get something right as it relates to being accountable for the centuries of brutality, systemic racism and oppression inflicted upon Black America.
The last three survivors of the massacre are 107-year-old Viola Fletcher, who was 7 during the massacre, her brother, Hughes Van Ellis, 100, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106.
“This was not a celebration. People are mourning,” said Dreisen Heath, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who testified at a congressional hearing on reparations in February. “Every day counts for these survivors. And I think that people just play games with Black people’s lives too much. It’s not enough to just come in and say words and reiterate the truthful narrative.”
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