The widespread carnage and atrocities perpetrated 100 years ago by a white mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma against the city's affluent Black community was no riot, but instead a hate-fueled "massacre," US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.
Commemorating the solemn centenary, and honoring its victims, Biden drew widespread applause when he dispelled the typical framing of the tragedy as a "riot," instead emphasizing it marks one of the worst massacres in US history.
"As soon as it happened there was a clear effort to erase it from our collective memory, from the news and everyday conversations," the president said at the Greenwood Cultural Center.
“We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do: they come to terms with their dark sides, and we’re a great nation. The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild. I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen," he added.
The details of the white mob's assault of the Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, which was then known as "Black Wall Street," remain murky to this day. But it stems from allegations that a Black male teenager assaulted a white female teenager in an elevator.
The two-day 1921 race massacre that began on the night of May 31 left hundreds dead and injured when a rampaging white mob attacked the predominantly Black affluent neighborhood of Greenwood.
More than 1,200 homes were burned, effectively destroying years of progress. The exact number of dead and injured remains unknown with estimates varying wildly.
Mass graves are in the process of exhumation to this day.
Biden said the US cannot simply bury the "pain and trauma" of the atrocities "forever," noting "at some point there will be a reckoning."
“Literal hell was unleashed. Through the night and into the morning the mob terrorized Greenwood, torches and guns shooting at will," he said.
The mayhem unleashed 100 years ago also marks the only time in US history that an aerial assault was recorded on a US city as private planes were used by the mob to rain bombs and gunfire down on Greenwood.
Biden acknowledged the fact, saying it marks "first and only domestic aerial assault of its kind."