US president Joe Biden is set to call for a narrowing of America’s racial wealth gap in the middle of controversy over Republican efforts to curb voting rights across the country on a visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of one of the most brutal attacks on a black community in US history.
Biden’s trip on Tuesday to Greenwood, the Tulsa neighbourhood that was known as “Black Wall Street” before a white mob destroyed it during a two-day rampage in 1921, highlights the White House’s attempt to heal America’s racial wounds that were exposed by the Black Lives Matter protests that escalated a year ago.
It also comes during an increasingly tense political fight over Republican efforts to curb access to voting in many states they control, including Georgia, Florida and Texas, in what critics see as a campaign to limit election participation among black and Hispanic people.
Democratic lawmakers in Texas on Sunday staged a late-night walkout from the state House of Representatives to block passage of a bill to restrict voting. Biden harshly criticised the legislation as “un-American,” while Jaime Harrison, the national party chair, called it “Jim Crow 2.0,” a reference to the system of discriminatory laws and policies that once prevailed in southern states.
However, Texas Republicans are expected to renew their push for the election overhaul bill in a special session of their state legislature, keeping the fight alive.
On a national level, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a bill that would crack down on state-level voting restrictions. But it is stalled in the Senate, where Biden’s party does not have the supermajority required to advance it under the upper chamber’s rules.
As Republicans have become emboldened in their attempts to impose voting restrictions, Biden is facing pressure from many within his party to call for a change in the Senate rules that would allow Democrats to pass voting reform without any Republican support.
In advance of his visit to Tulsa, Biden issued a proclamation calling “on the American people to reflect on the deep roots of racial terror in our nation and recommit to the work of rooting out systemic racism across our country”.
The attacks in Greenwood 100 years ago left 300 black people dead and thousands homeless. Biden is planning to meet community leaders and survivors of the massacre during his visit.
The White House has pushed for new measures to curb the racial wealth gap in America, including a crackdown on discrimination in home appraisals and a $100bn boost to federal contracts for small businesses in disadvantaged communities. As part of its $2.3tn infrastructure plan, the White House has also tagged $15bn to revamp transportation grids that divided black and white communities, contributing to racial inequities.
“The destruction wrought on the Greenwood neighbourhood and its families was followed by laws and policies that made recovery nearly impossible,” the White House said in a statement. “And chronic disinvestment by the federal government in black entrepreneurs and small businesses denied Black Wall Street a fair shot at rebuilding.”