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Tulsa Renews Search for Massacre Victims

More than 300 people were killed in 1921 attack on Black residents
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 18, 2020 11:30 AM CDT
Tulsa Again Looks for Race Massacre Victims
Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield carries a tray of items found in July at Tulsa's Oaklawn Cemetery during a test excavation.   (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP File)

A second excavation begins Monday at a cemetery in an effort to find and identify victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and shed light on the tragedy. The violence left hundreds dead and decimated an area that was once a cultural and economic center for African Americans. "I realize we can tell this story the way it needs to be told, now,” said Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida and a descendant of a survivor of the massacre who is assisting the search. "The story is no longer hidden. We’re putting the completion on this event." The violence happened on May 31 and June 1 in 1921, when a white mob attacked Tulsa's Black Wall Street, killing an estimated 300 people and wounding 800 more while looting and burning businesses, homes, and churches. Stubblefield's great-aunt's home was burned and property taken in the attack.

The locations to be searched are in Oaklawn Cemetery in north Tulsa, where a search for remains of victims ended without success in July, and near the Greenwood District where the massacre took place. The earlier excavation was in an area identified by ground-penetrating radar scans as appearing to be a human-dug pit indicative of a mass grave. It turned out be a filled-in creek, said Mayor G.T. Bynum. Bodies will not be disturbed, he said; the excavation would stop, and investigators would "do what they need to do to identify them and determine a cause of death." Efforts would be made to find any descendants, a project that the mayor knows could prove difficult. "A hundred years after the fact, the descendants are scattered all around the world. Tracking down the descendants could take years," Bynum said. (A lawsuit seeks reparations in the massacre.)

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