Joe Biden was set to travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a race massacre which targeted affluent African Americans and their businesses and in which as many as 300 people were killed.
Ahead of the visit, during which the president was scheduled to meet survivors of the massacre and tour a cultural center before delivering remarks, the White House announced a series of initiatives meant to narrow the US racial wealth gap.
The administration pledged action to address racial discrimination in housing and said it would use its purchasing power to direct an additional $100bn to disadvantaged small business owners.
The trip and the new initiatives come two weeks after three survivors of the massacre – Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Evelyn Benningfield Randle – testified to Congress about the need to compensate survivors and their descendants.
“I am here seeking justice,” Fletcher told a House subcommittee. “I am here asking my country to acknowledge what happened in Tulsa in 1921.”
On 31 May and 1 June that year, white mobs attacked the Greenwood district, a prosperous area known as Black Wall Street. An estimated 300 people were killed while many more were displaced and blocks of the city were burned.
On Monday, Biden marked the anniversary by calling on Americans to “recommit” to efforts to address systemic racism.
“On this solemn centennial of the Tulsa race massacre, I call 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,” Biden said.
The president noted that the federal government “must reckon with and acknowledge the role that it has played in stripping wealth and opportunity from Black communities”.
Reflecting on the lives and businesses lost in Tulsa in 1921, Biden said: “We honor the legacy of the Greenwood community, and of Black Wall Street, by reaffirming our commitment to advance racial justice through the whole of our government, and working to root out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, and our hearts.”
On Tuesday morning, the administration also outlined how its American Jobs Plan would directly benefit communities of color.
The president’s proposed infrastructure package includes a $10bn fund to boost community-led infrastructure projects and a $15bn grant program to bolster transportation infrastructure.
Biden has also called for the creation of a Neighborhood Homes Tax Credit to support the development of affordable housing and a $5bn grant program to expand housing options for Americans with low or moderate incomes.
Finally, the president has indicated he would like to invest $31bn to expand support for minority-owned small businesses.
However, it is unclear if any of these initiatives will make it into a final infrastructure bill. Senate Republicans have proposed a $257bn bill, much smaller than the $1.7tn package Biden is pushing.
It is possible proposals will be cut in order to gain Republican support. Biden will meet the West Virginia senator Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican leader in negotiations, at the White House on Wednesday.