White House officials would not say whether President Joe Biden backs paying reparations to black survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre after an event was canceled because of the issue.
Talking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Tulsa on Tuesday, Karine Jean-Pierre did not directly answer questions regarding the president’s thoughts on making direct reparations payments to survivors of the incident but instead repeated his earlier statements regarding support for a study on reparations.
“President Biden believes we have to take core steps right now to fight systemic racism,” she told reporters. “He also supports a study, as we’ve said before, for reparations, but believes that first and foremost, the task in front of us is … to root out systemic racism where it exists right now.”
The administration’s response comes after an event called “Remember and Rise,” which was originally scheduled for Monday and featuring several high-profile figures including singer-songwriter John Legend, was canceled. The event, which also was to feature a speech from Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, was meant to close out commemoration of the massacre.
It was called off, however, after an attorney hired to represent survivors “demanded $1 million for each of them to appear, as well as a $50 million reparations fund for descendants,” the Daily Mail reported.
Officials belonging to a panel behind Remember and Rise expressed dismay that it was canceled but were hopeful it could be rescheduled at a later date, the outlet reported.
Up to 300 people were killed during the massacre and much of Tulsa’s black prosperous Greenwood neighborhood was destroyed by fire between May 31 and June 1, 1921.
Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden wanted to visit Tulsa to ensure that the massacre remained uppermost in Americans’ minds after becoming the first U.S. president to commemorate the tragedy.
‘There are survivors of that violence who are still forced to fight for recognition,” the deputy press secretary said. “And that is the focus of what the president wants to do.
“He wants to make sure that this is on record, this is not forgotten – a story that has not been told is told,” she added. “And, you know, it is an indictment of systemic racism that these survivors have been forced to fight for literally 100 years to have their humanity recognized, and to have justice served, and justice and fairness still eludes them.”
The incident, which was also dubbed the Black Wall Street Massacre, reportedly left about 10,000 people homeless and 100 businesses destroyed. A 2001 report on the riot estimated that nearly $1.5 million in damages were caused at the time, or about $20 million by today’s standards.
Meanwhile, a group called the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, which is mostly black, raised some $30 million, including $20 million to build the Greenwood Rising museum, to memorialize the incident.
Some black residents in Tulsa, however, argue the money should be used to compensate survivor families. Damario Solomon-Simmons, who is representing survivors in a lawsuit filed against the city, has made that argument.
State Sen. Kevin Matthews, who is black, founded the commission and originally offered to pay $100,000 to each survivor while establishing a $2 million reparations fund. He noted that the offer was initially accepted but the survivors then returned with a bigger request after their lawyers said that the commission’s first offer was merely tentative.
It was that disagreement that ultimately led to the cancellation of Monday’s event, the Daily Mail noted.
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