The Republican President who Called for Racial Justice in America after Tulsa MassacreBreaking News
tags: Tulsa Massacre, Warren G. Harding
It was just three days after the horrific violence in Tulsa, where hundreds of African Americans had been killed and the city’s segregated black neighborhood — including 35 square blocks of prosperous businesses — had been destroyed by rampaging whites. Some buildings had even been firebombed from planes.
President Warren G. Harding spent the weekend worrying over how to respond to the massacre. Finally, he decided to accept a commencement invitation from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the nation’s first degree-granting historically black institution.
He would use that moment in 1921 to seek healing and harmony — and several months later in Alabama, he would go much further with daring remarks about equality.
That was how a Republican president addressed racially fraught events nearly a century ago.
“Despite the demagogues, the idea of our oneness as Americans has risen superior to every appeal to mere class and group,” Harding declared. “And so, I wish it might be in this matter of our national problem of races.”
Few people could have missed the symbolism of Harding’s June 6 visit to Lincoln, Pa., near the small town of Oxford, about five miles north of the Maryland border. The university had been founded as the Ashmun Institute in 1854 but changed its name after the Civil War in tribute to the assassinated president. Early on, it was known as “the Black Princeton.”
Harding wanted to acknowledge the searing anguish of Tulsa — the city where President Trump held a controversial rally Saturday night — not just for African Americans there but also across the nation. He also wanted to praise and honor Lincoln alumni who had been among the more than 367,000 black servicemen to fight in the Great War. One Lincoln graduate led the 370th U.S. Infantry, the “Black Devils.” Col. F.A. Denison was the sole black commander of a regiment in France.