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Biden and remembering the Tulsa massacre of Black residents: We can’t say anymore we didn’t know

Of particular interest to Chicago are Biden’s proposals unveiled in Tulsa to deal with banking and appraisal policies leading to the systematic devaluation of Black residential communities.

Tulsa Commemorates 100th Anniversary Of Tulsa Race Massacre
President Biden in Tulsa on Tuesday to commemorate the centennial of the Tulsa race massacre. May 31st of this year marks the centennial of when a white mob started looting, burning and murdering in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, then known as Black Wall Street, killing up to 300 people and displacing thousands more.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — “I had no idea ...”

I’ve been hearing that phrase a lot from people these past weeks, in the run-up to events marking the Tulsa massacre 100 years ago. It’s no mystery why we had no idea.

It was never taught. History books overlooked what became the forgotten killing of an estimated 300 Black residents in a white supremacist rampage that leveled some 1,250 residences, leaving some 10,000 homeless. Bodies were tossed into mass graves.

In this era of racial reckoning — and with President Joe Biden making racial equity a centerpiece of his presidency — Biden on Tuesday became the first president to travel to Tulsa to mark the horrific events that took place between May 31 to June 1, 1921.

“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 — a 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.

“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.”

Looking ahead, Biden used the Tulsa centennial to announce a package of proposals to narrow the race-based money gap and encourage Black wealth creation.

BIDEN’S PLANS: CHICAGO IMPACT

Of particular interest to Chicago are Biden’s proposals to deal with the legacy of housing segregation and the banking and appraisal policies that led to the systematic devaluation of Black residential communities.

“My administration has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimination in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a white family,” Biden said.

Segregated Chicago has a sad history of being at the epicenter of discriminatory housing practices: from restrictive covenants (used to keep communities white and Christian) to redlining (flagging the neighborhoods where banks would not make loans to Black applicants) to a race-based home appraisal system devaluing homes in minority neighborhoods.

The impact of these practices continue to this day.

A Sun-Times story last year by Elvia Malagón detailed the roles race plays in housing appraisal in Chicago, where comparable property in white neighborhoods is worth more.

And even though redlining is supposed to be outlawed, an analysis by WBEZ, in partnership with City Bureau, found “gaping disparities in the amount of money lent in Chicago’s white neighborhoods compared to black and Latino areas.”

Going forward, the Biden administration will try to eliminate discrimination in property appraisals.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge will be leading an interagency commission to figure out how to develop policies and principles to advance the removal of discriminatory practices in appraisals that lead to devaluing some communities based on race.

An administration official told me the commission members will be named soon with a set of policy recommendations and guidelines expected in 180 days. The commission will also deal with present-day redlining.

The Biden team seems headed to try to reform the appraisal industry — including making it more diverse — because it has an outsized role in perpetuating inequality.

Chicago in 2021 continues to be a segregated city. Certain residential neighborhoods grapple with the lasting legacy of discriminatory lending and valuations — all cutting into the transfer of wealth to the next generation.

Which brings us back to Tulsa, and righting wrongs for the erasure of what was called the “Black Wall Street.”

As Biden said, Tulsa was “for too long, forgotten by our history.” There was “a clear effort to erase it from our memory — our collective memories — from the news and everyday conversations. For a long time, schools in Tulsa didn’t even teach it, let alone schools elsewhere.”

Redlining and its cousin, race-based, low-ball, residential real estate appraisal has been studied for years. On this one, we do have an idea of what happened.

Said Biden, “Only in remembrance do wounds heal. We just have to choose to remember.”