Search for victims of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre ends

Local

TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – One hundred years after one of the worst instances of racial violence in the United States, city leaders in Tulsa say the search for victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre has come to an end.

The Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma was once called the “Black Wall Street,” a 35-block radius in the segregated community that was thriving with hundreds of businesses.

3rd June 1921: injured and wounded men are being taken to hospital by National guardsmen after racially motivated riots, also known as the "Tulsa Race Massacre", during which a mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
3rd June 1921: injured and wounded men are being taken to hospital by National guardsmen after racially motivated riots, also known as the “Tulsa Race Massacre”, during which a mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But, on May 31 through June 1, 1921, the entire area was burned down as a white mob attacked the community after a Black man was accused of assaulting a white woman.

White residents burned down homes and businesses, killing hundreds of Black residents and injuring 800 others.

Despite it being one of the worst instances of racial violence in the United States, the massacre was mostly swept under the rug.

Tulsa Race Massacre photo courtesy of OSU-Tulsa
‘Worst disaster in Oklahoma history’ how the Oklahoma City bombing shined a light on the Tulsa Race Massacre (Photo: OSU-Tulsa)

Although the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred 100 years ago, the community never fully recovered.

Businesses were never able to rebuild, and innocent families were not compensated for the losses caused by the mob.

Although there are estimates regarding the casualties that occurred during the attack, officials have been working for more than a year to find all of the victims.

On Friday, lead investigators announced that they are terminating their excavation process.

“This process has been very sobering, a very powerful experience,” Kavin Ross, 1921 Graves Public Oversight Committee Chair, said.

In all, they were able to find 35 graves that were not marked.

However, it is still unknown how many of those remains were victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

In this July 14, 2020, file photo, workers climb out of the excavation site as work continues on a potential unmarked mass grave from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki File)
In this July 14, 2020, file photo, workers climb out of the excavation site as work continues on a potential unmarked mass grave from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki File)

Lead Forensic Anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield said that certain parts of the cemetery were “shockingly under-documented,” so it’s extremely difficult to determine how many are connected to the massacre.

As they were beginning excavations, they were told to look for males in plain caskets.

“Our target population was black males with gunshot wounds. You know, you don’t necessarily have gunshot wounds affect your skeleton but that was our target, and they were buried in plain caskets,” said Dr. Stubblefield.

Dr. Stubblefield says they found several women buried in fancy, decorated caskets.

As they began to find the male caskets, they realized that many of them were not handled with the same amount of care as the women.

“Plain casket, male, buried facing west instead of east. Plain casket, male, crammed in his casket. Plain casket, male, folded, I mean, just really in there tight,” Stubblefield said.

Mass burial site excavation of what is believed to be remains of Tulsa Race Massacre victims in Oaklawn Cemetery (Photo: City of Tulsa)
Experts break down the science behind identifying remains thought to belong to Tulsa Race Massacre victims (Photo: City of Tulsa)

Of the remains that were exhumed, officials say only one showed specific trauma associated with the massacre.

That victim, who is of African descent, suffered multiple projectile wounds and still had a bullet in his left shoulder. Officials say his remains were found in an individual grave shaft, and was found in a row of infant graves.

At this point, experts say it is extremely difficult to determine if the other remains were victims of the massacre.

“The probability of finding any additional trauma that’s not ballistic is lower because of the amount of damage to the bones varies by individual burial,” she said. “The individual with the gunshot wounds, he’s well preserved. Other individuals, not so well preserved. So if they had sharp force trauma say, very hard to detect in remains that are already very brittle and falling apart, not on their own. It’s not been that bad, but touch them too much and they fall apart, like the second or third time you touch it. That’s hard on sharp force, unless it’s sawing but we’re not seeing anything like that. I mean like stabs. It’s hard to detect those incise cuts, slashing. It would be very difficult and very site specific to be detected. So what do we do? We keep cleaning off all the bones if they have enough bone left to be cleaned. And that’s where we are with the males.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest News

More News

Pay it 4Ward

More Pay It 4ward

National News

More U.S. & World

Washington D.C.

More Washington

Your Local Election HQ

More Your Local Election HQ

Daily Oklahoma Coronavirus Data

Trending

Contact In Your Corner Team

Latest News

More News

SCAN ME: KFOR App QR Code

image of QR Code

KFOR Digital Originals

More Digital Original

Follow @KFOR on Twitter