Tulsa Starts New Excavation In Search Of Victims Of 1921 Massacre

The city of Tulsa has began excavation at a new site in an effort to find the remains of Black victims who were killed during the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. This is the city's second effort this year to find the remains of between 150 and 300 people who died during the massacre. In the city's most recent search, excavation crews are focusing on two areas near the Oaklawn Cemetery. The first of the two sites is called the "Original 18."

"Funeral home records and other documents for 1921 show that at least eighteen identified and unidentified African American massacre victims were buried in the city-owned cemetery," city officials wrote.

The second site is named after Tulsa native Clay Eddy. Historians believe Eddy witnessed the burial of massacre victims as a 10-year-old boy.

"A core sampling, and possible test excavation, will simultaneously take place at the Clyde Eddy site, also located in the southwest section of the cemetery," city officials explained.

The second round of excavations is expected to last one week. If victims are found, they will not be exhumed. Instead, researchers are looking for more information regarding the trauma that victims endured.

"A lot of the individuals recorded in Oaklawn have a record of gunshot wounds," forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield said.

"If they died promptly and were buried without any autopsy the projectile will still be somewhere in that abdomen, even its just in the location of where an abdomen would be within a skeleton."

The most recent round of excavations come six weeks after a group of Oklahomans filed a lawsuit against the city in search of reparations. 105-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle, who lived through the riots, is among those who are seeking between $50 and $100 million for damage done to the city's Greenwood District

The infamous 1921 Tulsa Riots were triggered by an incident in which a Black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an elevator alongside a white elevator operator named Susan Page. During their encounter, Page screamed and Rowland fled the building. Not long afterwards, Rowland was arrested and rumors about what took place in the elevator surged through the city. Hours after his arrest, a mob of white men arrived at the local courthouse and demanded that Rowland be released to them, so that he could be lynched. Sheriff Willard McCullough declined, a group of Black men arrived in defense of Rowland and chaos ensued. Red Cross estimates that more than 1,200 homes were burned and the city's fame Greenwood District was destroyed. Historians estimate nearly 300 people died. Charges against Rowland were later dropped as police came to the conclusion that he either stumbled or simply stepped on Page's foot. In recent years, shows like Lovecraft County and Watchmen have attempted to depict the riots.

If the city is unable to find any remains at the two sites in questions, crews will move to other sites including Newblock Park and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens.

"Beyond Oaklawn Cemetery, multiple sites of interest remain and are still candidates for possible graves related to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre," city officials said.

Photo: Getty Images

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