Search for victims of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre expected to continue this summer

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TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – Nearly 100 years after one of the worst instances of racial violence in the United States took place, city leaders in Tulsa say they hope to finally get closure for some of the victims.

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.

But, on 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.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre, Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

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
Tulsa Race Massacre. Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

Even though it’s been nearly 100 years since the attack, leaders say the community never fully recovered.

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

For the past year, crews have been excavating Tulsa cemeteries in search of unmarked graves that may contain the remains of the massacre victims.

In October, excavations began on two parts of the Oaklawn Cemetery.

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)

In one section, a boy reported seeing Black citizens being buried shortly after the massacre, while funeral records indicated 18 people were buried in the other section.

Ground-penetrating radar previously found anomalies indicating possible graves in both areas.

As the search began, archaeologists found human remains in an area known as the ‘Original 18.’

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation team says at least 12 coffins holding human remains were discovered where anomalies were previously detected.

At this point, it is still unknown whether the remains are associated with the Tulsa Race Massacre.

On Tuesday, the 1921 Grave Public Oversight Committee recommended a full excavation of the site this summer.

In the meantime, organizers say they will work to find a permanent burial and memorial site for any 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims who are found in the process.

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