US marks 100th anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Veronica Rocha, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 7:02 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021
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6:08 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

Here's what Biden will need Congress to do about the racial wealth gap

From CNN's Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco

President Joe Biden speaks at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1.
President Joe Biden speaks at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1. Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden on Tuesday laid out his most comprehensive plan yet for shrinking the nation's longstanding racial wealth gap, the latest step in his promise to infuse more equity in government policies and in the rebuilding of the economy after the coronavirus pandemic.

Some measures — including changes to deal with housing discrimination and directing federal support to small businesses — he can take on his own, but many of his proposals require congressional approval that could be very tough to secure.

That includes pouring tens of billions of dollars into communities of color to improve transportation infrastructure, develop more neighborhood amenities, build and rehabilitate affordable housing and support small businesses. All of these proposals are contained in Biden's massive infrastructure package, called the American Jobs Act.

That package has run into trouble in Congress, with members of both parties concerned about its roughly $2 trillion size — as well as about the corporate tax increases that would be used to pay for it. The White House is currently negotiating with a group of Republicans in hopes of finding agreement on a smaller package — with the latest GOP proposal coming in at $928 billion.

The massive wealth divide between Black and White families is currently in the spotlight because of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst acts of racial violence in US cities. The typical non-Hispanic White family had a net worth of $188,200 in 2019, while the typical non-Hispanic Black family's wealth was $24,100, according to the most recent Federal Reserve Bank data.

There are many reasons for the gap, including a big difference in home ownership -- a key vehicle to building wealth. About 74% of Whites owned homes in the first quarter of 2021 versus 45% of Blacks, according to the US Census Bureau.

  • Create a $10 billion Community Revitalization Fund: The fund would target economically under-served areas and support community-led civic infrastructure projects that develop neighborhood amenities, revitalize vacant land and buildings, spark new local economic activity, provide services, promote civic engagement and build community wealth.
  • Invest in transportation infrastructure: The President wants to establish grants totaling $15 billion that would target neighborhoods where people have been cut off from jobs, schools and businesses because of previous transportation investments. The funding would support planning, removing or retrofitting infrastructure that creates barriers to communities.
  • Increase affordable housing: Biden is calling for the creation of a Neighborhood Homes Tax Credit to attract private investment in the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income buyers and owners.
  • Expand housing choices: The President is asking lawmakers to establish a $5 billion grant program for jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate land-use and zoning barriers to producing affordable housing and that expand housing choices for people with low or moderate incomes.
  • Invest $31 billion to support minority-owned small businesses: Biden wants to provide $30 billion to the Small Business Administration to increase access to capital for the smallest companies, develop new loan products to support small manufacturers and businesses that invest in clean energy and launch a Small Business Investment Corporation to make early stage equity investments, placing a priority on small firms owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. It would also establish a $1 billion grant program through the Minority Business Development Agency aimed at helping minority-owned manufacturers access private capital.

6:01 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

These are the executive actions Biden will take to address racial inequality

From CNN's Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco

President Biden announced today new steps his administration will take to reduce the racial wealth gap.

Here are key things to know about the actions: 

Combating housing discrimination. The President is charging Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge with leading a first-of-its-kind interagency initiative to address inequity in home appraisals. The effort will include carrying out potential enforcement under fair housing laws, regulatory action, and the development of standards and guidance in partnership with industry and state and local governments.

To allow the more vigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, the agency also will publish two rules aimed at combating practices that contribute to systemic inequality. The rules would reinstate the agency's discriminatory effects standard and the requirement that municipalities that receive agency funding show that the money's use does not further discrimination.

These efforts are aimed at reversing efforts by the Trump administration to weaken Fair Housing Act protections and stem from an executive memorandum Biden issued in January that focused on redressing the federal government's history of discriminatory housing policies.

The moves are a "welcome step" and go part of the way to addressing structural divides in the housing market that have developed over decades, said Michael Neal, senior research associate at the Urban Institute. He would also like to see downpayment assistance, particularly for the historically disadvantaged.

Directing federal contracts to small businesses. In addition, Biden wants more federal purchasing to be made from small, disadvantaged businesses, many of them minority-owned — though it could take years to have an impact. His goal is to increase the share of contracts going to them by 50% by 2026.

The President can direct federal agencies to conduct outreach to smaller businesses and reduce barriers that exist for them to compete in federal contracts. It's unclear whether he will need Congress to pass legislation that changes some of the rules.

Biden has already set in motion a process to alter federal purchasing rules when he signed an executive order in January. It set a 180-day deadline to change how domestic content is defined and measured for qualifying products as well as increase the required threshold in an effort to boost American manufacturing. Biden also hired the first Made in America Director, Celeste Drake, to help implement the federal procurement process and focus on reaching small businesses and minority entrepreneurs.

What else Biden could do: Several policy experts say canceling student debt would help close the racial wealth gap because Black Americans are more likely to take on student debt and then struggle to repay it. More than 200 advocacy groups, including the Center for Responsible Lending and the American Federation of Teachers union, called on Biden to use his executive powers to cancel student debt on day one of his administration.

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, also called on Biden to take action and cancel $50,000 per borrower. The move would be unprecedented, but a memo from lawyers at Harvard's Legal Services Center and its Project on Predatory Student Lending says the Department of Education has the power to do so.

Biden has resisted the pressure so far but has said he would support a move by Congress to cancel $10,000 per borrower. It's unlikely that legislation would pass the Senate where Democrats have a razor thin majority.

Taking executive action does not appear to be off the table, though. Biden directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to write a memo on the president's legal authorities to cancel debt, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said in an interview with Politico in April.

Biden did not include a student debt cancellation provision in his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which calls for making community college free and expanding Pell Grants for low-income college students, or in his proposed budget. NAACP's National President Derrick Johnson criticized Biden for failing to address the student loan crises, which he said was at the core of the racial wealth gap.

CNN's Kate Sullivan contributed to this story.

5:08 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

Biden: "Hate never goes away. Hate only hides."

Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

President Biden said during a speech marking 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre that "hate never goes away. Hate only hides."

He said that if you give hatred "a little bit of oxygen, just a little bit of oxygen by its leaders, it comes out from under the rock."

"We must not give hate a safe harbor," Biden said.

He added that according to the US intelligence community, terrorism from White supremacy is "the most lethal threat to the homeland today." 

Watch here:

4:53 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

Vice President Harris will lead Biden administration's efforts on voting rights

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the Biden administration’s efforts on voting rights, President Biden announced in a speech Tuesday on the Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma.

The new role comes as the Biden administration has been quick to condemn Republican-led state legislatures efforts to pass restrictive laws the White House says make it harder for Americans to vote.

In a statement first to CNN, Harris wrote, “President Joe Biden asked me to help lead our Administration’s effort to protect the fundamental right to vote for all Americans. In the days and weeks ahead, I will engage the American people, and I will work with voting rights organizations, community organizations, and the private sector to help strengthen and uplift efforts on voting rights nationwide. And we will also work with members of Congress to help advance these bills.” 

“The work ahead of us is to make voting accessible to all American voters, and to make sure every vote is counted through a free, fair, and transparent process. This is the work of democracy,” Harris said.

Earlier Tuesday, White House deputy press secretary Karine-Jean Pierre called the latest bill pushed by Republicans in Texas “part of a concerted attack on our democracy being advanced in state houses across the country on the basis of the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to the assault on our nation’s Capital on Jan. 6.” Texas Democrats derailed the restrictive voting bill, but are warning of the continued threat of the legislation that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to bring back during a planned special session.

In a statement on Saturday, Biden criticized the bill as an “assault on democracy,” and “wrong and un-American.” In her own statement on Twitter, Harris used similar language, adding, “We need to make it easier for eligible voters to vote. Not harder.”

Both Biden and Harris have been vocal about voting rights, calling for Congress to pass HR 1 For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

In May, Harris held a meeting with voting and civil rights leaders to discuss “the critical importance of protecting the right to vote,” according to a readout released at the time.

This becomes the latest task of Harris’ expanding solo-portfolio. In March, President Biden tasked her with leading the diplomatic efforts in the Northern Triangle, to stem the flow of migration across the US- Mexico border. Since then, she’s added leading the administration’s efforts to expand broadband internet, a focus on small business among other issues.

 

5:03 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

Biden to remaining Tulsa Race Massacre survivors: "Now your story will be known in full view"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden honored the three remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre during his remarks commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the attack.

"Thank you for spending so much time with me. I really mean it. It was a great honor, a genuine honor. You are the three known remaining survivors of a story seen in the mirror dimly, but no longer. Now your story will be known in full view," Biden said to Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle.

"Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can't be buried no matter how hard people try, and so it is here only, only with truth, can come healing and justice and repair, only with truth, facing it, but that isn't enough. First, we have to see, hear and give respect to Mother Randle, Mother Fletcher and Mr. Van Ellis. And to all those lost so many years ago, to all the descendants of those who suffered, to this community, that's why we're here, to shine a light, to make sure America knows the story in full," the President said.

Watch here:

4:59 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

Biden: "This was not a riot. This was a massacre." 

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said during his speech in Tulsa that there was "no proper accounting of the dead" from the Tulsa Race Massacre that occurred 100 years ago.

"The death toll records by local officials said there were 36 people. That's all. Thirty-six people. Based on studies, records, and accounts, the likelihood — the likely number is much more in the multiple of hundreds," Biden said. 

The President said that an untold number of bodies were dumped into mass graves, adding, "the process of exhuming the unmarked graves has started."

He then paused his speech for a moment of silence to honor those who died. 

"My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre. Among the worst in our history," Biden said.

Watch here:

4:47 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

Biden: I'm the first president in 100 years to "acknowledge the truth" of what took place in Tulsa

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden noted how the tragic events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre has been "cloaked in darkness" for too long in history during his remarks in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"The events we speak of today took place 100 years ago, and yet I'm the first president in 100 years ever to come to Tulsa," Biden said.

"I say that not as a compliment about me, but to think about it. Hundred years, and the first president to be here during that entire time, and in this place, in this ground to acknowledge the truth of what took place here," he said.

Biden continued, "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. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing. It erases nothing. Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can't be buried no matter how hard people try. And so it is here, only, only with truth, can come healing and justice and repair, only with truth, facing it, but that isn't enough."

Watch here:

4:27 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

NOW: Biden delivers remarks on 100th anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Pool
Pool

President Biden is delivering remarks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the race massacre.

"That's why we're here, to shine a light, to make sure America knows the story in full," Biden said.

On May 31, 1921, a White mob descended on the prosperous Black neighborhood known as Black Wall Street and proceeded to burn, loot and kill until hundreds were dead and 35 city blocks were destroyed. 

The President is set to announce today new steps his administration will take to reduce the racial wealth gap. Here are key things to know about the actions: 

  • Biden will announce he will use federal purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses by 50%, which the White House says will translate to an additional $100 billion over five years. 
  • The President will also announce additional specifics in the American Jobs Plan, including on the $10 billion community revitalization fund to support civic infrastructure projects. 
  • The fund will be targeted to economically underserved and underdeveloped communities like Greenwood, where the Tulsa Race Massacre took place 100 years ago. 
  • The fund will support adapting vacant buildings and storefronts to provide low-cost space for services and community entrepreneurs, including health centers, arts and cultural spaces, job training programs, business incubators and community marketplaces. The fund will also support removing toxic waste to create new parks and community gardens. 
  • Biden will announce $15 billion in new competitive grants targeted to neighborhoods where people have been cut off from jobs, schools and businesses because of previous transportation investments. It will also invest $31 billion to support minority-owned small businesses.
  • The President will take new action to address racial discrimination in the housing market, including launching a new interagency effort to address inequity in home appraisal and aggressively combating housing discrimination.
  • The US Department of Housing and Urban Development will publish two fair housing rules in order to combat systemic inequality. HUD will restore affirmatively further fair housing definitions and certifications, and will reinstate HUDs discriminatory effects standard.

Biden on Monday proclaimed May 31, 2021, to be a "Day of Remembrance: 100 Years After The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre" and called on Americans to recommit to rooting out systemic racism in America.

Read more about the actions here.

4:22 p.m. ET, June 1, 2021

Biden is meeting with 3 Tulsa Race Massacre survivors

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

Michelle Brown-Burdex, program coordinator of the Greenwood Cultural Center, speaks as she leads President Joe Biden on a tour of the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1.
Michelle Brown-Burdex, program coordinator of the Greenwood Cultural Center, speaks as she leads President Joe Biden on a tour of the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1. Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden toured the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is meeting now with three surviving members of the community who lived through the 1921 race massacre.

According to the White House, Biden is meeting with:

  • Viola Fletcher
  • Hughes Van Ellis
  • Lessie Benningfield Randle

They are now between the ages of 101 to 107.

Biden was joined on the tour of the Greenwood Cultural Center by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and Senior Advisor to the President Cedric Richmond.

Biden viewed pictures and news clippings of the Greenwood section of Tulsa, the area known as “Black Wall Street,” both before and after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Later today, Biden will deliver remarks at 4:15 p.m. ET to commemorate the 100 years of the race massacre and is expected to announce new steps to help minority-owned businesses grow and to address racial discrimination in the housing market, according to senior administration officials.

CNN's Kate Sullivan contributed reporting to this post.