Excavations to begin soon in search for Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves

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Courtesy of KFOR

TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – Almost 100 years after one of the darkest moments in state history, Oklahoma leaders say they are another step closer to finding the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Tulsa Race Massacre

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

But, on June 1, 1921, the entire area was burned down as a result of a riot that began after a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre

White residents attacked the community, 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.

“For decades, Oklahoma schools did not talk about it. In fact, newspapers didn’t even print any information about the Tulsa Race Riot. It was completely ignored. It was one of those horrible events that everyone wanted to just sweep under the rug and ignore,” U.S. Senator James Lankford said.

Search for victims

As the 100th-anniversary approaches, community leaders have pushed for justice for the dead. 

Last year, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum proposed using $100,000 from the city’s budget to search for the mass graves of the victims.

Months ago, Bynum said crews would search Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park, The Canes, and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens for possible mass graves.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre

“If we can identify a place where there are bodies, we have a responsibility to look into that,” Mayor Bynum told KJRH.

In October, scientists and forensic archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to search for anything unusual in the cemeteries. Archaeological experts say a few anomalies were found that might indicate they are the sites of mass graves.

Excavation Efforts

In less than a month, excavation crews will begin their search for possible victims.

Officials tell FOX 23 that archaeologists and experts will begin searching the Oaklawn Cemetery on April 1.

Researchers will use heavy machinery to remove the top layer of soil and then archaeologists will sift the soil by hand to find any remains.

If remains are found, they say they will work to determine how the victims died without removing the remains.

“We want to make sure that this work is done in a way that ensures dignity for potential victims that we might be finding,” an organizer said.

Officials say the initial search could last 12 days.

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