The story of Greenwood is not just one of the ugliest chapters in American history. It’s part of a 400 year history of racial oppression that systematically robbed generations of Black Americans of their labor and wealth and denied them an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream. That history, like the massacre at Greenwood, has been buried for far too long, and that needs to change.
In 2019, I visited Tulsa to announce that the public art project developed by local leaders – including Mayor Bynum and the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, chaired by Senator Matthews – had won our foundation’s Public Art Challenge. We created the Challenge to help cities bring people together and address important issues. Tulsa’s proposal was especially inspiring, and we wanted to help bring it to life.
Like most Americans, I had never been taught about Greenwood in school, and learning about it deeply affected me. During my campaign for president, when we decided to launch an ambitious agenda to grow Black wealth and increase the number of Black home owners and small business owners, I knew there was no better place to announce it than Tulsa. We called our agenda the Greenwood Initiative, and the morning I spent with Rev. Turner at Vernon Chapel AME Church, and the afternoon I spent with Tulsa residents at the Greenwood Cultural Center, was a powerful experience I will never forget.
Our Greenwood Initiative was focused on righting historic wrongs, including reforming the criminal justice system. The recent killings of unarmed Black Americans – including in Georgia by vigilantes, and in Minnesota by police – are painful reminders of how essential and urgent this work is.
As the people of Tulsa and all around the nation mark the 99th anniversary of the Greenwood massacre this weekend, let us all re-commit ourselves to the kinds of changes we need to make in our governments and communities to build a future – as I said in Tulsa earlier this year – where color and capital are no longer related, and where the promise of American equality rings true in every community.