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Biden makes history with Tulsa visit, pledges to tackle racial wealth gap

A century after a storm of racial killing engulfed Tulsa, Oklahoma, President Joe Biden's visit to the city's Greenwood district reflects how the nation is reassessing race relations — past, present and future. White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reports on Biden's historic visit and initiatives to tackle the racial wealth gap.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to Tulsa a century after a storm of racial killing engulfed the city. The president's visit today came as the nation is reassessing race relations past, present and future.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reports.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    One hundred years after the Tulsa race massacre, President Biden came to mark one of the darkest chapters in American history.

  • President Joseph Biden:

    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.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He's the first U.S. president to travel to Tulsa to do so. He acknowledged the scars seared onto the nation's conscience.

  • JOE BIDEN:

    Private planes, private planes dropping explosives, the first and only domestic aerial assault of its kind on an American city, here in Tulsa. Eight of Greenwood's nearly two dozen churches burned, like Mount Zion.

    My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Biden also met with survivors of the massacre.

    In 1921, from May 31 to June 1, a white mob rampaged through the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was once a thriving African American community known as Black Wall Street. The violence killed as many as 300 Black people. Thousands of Black families were left homeless and fighting for survival. And 35 city blocks lay in ruins.

    A century later, Mr. Biden's visit came amid a national reckoning on racial justice in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. The president has pledged to do more to address racial inequities and to try lessening the racial wealth gap.

    A survey released last year by the Federal Reserve found that the median wealth of Black families is less than 15 percent of white families. The median for white families was $188,000, compared to just $24,000 for Black families.

    Today, the Biden administration announced several new initiatives aimed at tackling those disparities, including an effort to combat inequity in home appraisals and housing discrimination, boosting the share of federal contracts by 50 percent over five years for small and disadvantaged businesses.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Does anyone doubt this whole nation will be better off from the investments? The rich will be just as well-off. The middle class will do better, and everybody will do better.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president also would use funds tied to his proposed American Jobs Plan, including $10 billion for community-led infrastructure projects and $31 billion in small business programs to increase access to capital.

    The Tulsa centennial has also fueled a national conversation about reparations for centuries of slavery and racial discrimination.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now.

    So, Yamiche, tell us a little bit more about the reactions to the president's visit to Tulsa today and more about what he's saying about how to address the enormous racial wealth gap in this country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Biden's history-making trip was definitely welcomed by many people, but it was also a met with a lot of questions that remain unanswered tonight.

    So, President Biden spoke at length about the massacre in Tulsa. He said that this was really a scar on our nation's history. He said that this is something that we need to learn about, that the nation really needs to confront and deal with and contend with its dark past.

    But he also talked about the fact that he needs to do more and that the country needs to do more right now to deal with this racial wealth gap, which is why you saw the White House today roll out these initiatives.

    The big question, though, is what can be done for the people of Tulsa right now? There are survivors that the president met with who are 106, 107 years old who say that, right now, they are not able to pay their bills. They were unable — they were never able to close — go to school.

    And there are a lot of people who wondering whether or not there should be reparations for those people right now. The White House is not answering that question. They do say that the president supports a study on reparations.

    That being said, the president did also announce that Vice President Harris, she's going to be leading the administration's effort on fighting back against Republican-led efforts when it comes to voting rights. The president said that Republicans are really doing un-American things in trying to restrict voting.

    Of course, Republicans have said that a lot of those laws are aimed at voter integrity, even though there was no widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, how are these proposals being received? We know there's already quickly come some criticism of what the president did not talk about.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    So, the president talked a lot about disadvantaged communities and really trying to work on lessening this racial wealth gap. But there are a number of people, including the president of the NAACP, who are saying the president really needs to deal with student loan debt.

    And they say, the NAACP, that that disproportionately impacts Black Americans, especially Black students. And they say until you start talking about student loan debt, you can't get to homeownership, you can't get to business ownership, because people are tied down with that sort of debt.

    Now, the president, when he was a candidate, said that he was supportive of a plan that would wipe out, erase, that is, $10,000 worth of student loan debt for each American. But since his election, he has not moved forward with any plans like that.

    The White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, he says that they're looking into whether or not the president can wipe out student loan debt with only executive action. That is a question still hanging in the air. So, student loans is really top of mind. And the president did not deal with that today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor reporting on President Biden visit to Tulsa today.

    Thank you, Yamiche.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you.

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