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99 Years Later, an 'Unprecedented' Move in Tulsa

Dig at Oaklawn Cemetery tied to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 to begin in April
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2020 9:10 AM CST
99 Years Later, Tulsa Will Look for the Bodies
Scott Hammerstedt, with the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, and Angela Berg, with the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office, use ground-penetrating equipment to search for possible mass burial graves at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa on Oct. 7, 2019.   (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

A century later, officials plan to dig up part of a cemetery that could possibly hold victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, in which hundreds of African Americans were killed in an infamous instance of racial violence that city leaders largely stayed mum on for nearly a century. Archaeologists will excavate a small section in Oaklawn Cemetery, the Oklahoma city announced Monday. The April dig will target "a large anomaly consistent with a mass grave" to "establish the presence or absence of human remains, determine the nature of the interments, and obtain data to help inform the future steps in the investigation," according to a statement. Mayor GT Bynum called it an "unprecedented" move and said he could not answer for why leaders before him declined to investigate when evidence of mass graves surfaced in the 1990s.

"I will say it's a great frustration for me that it wasn't done," Bynum tells the New York Times. The horror began May 31, 1921, with claims that a black man had tried to sexually assault a white woman. A 2001 report determined the accused had likely tripped and bumped into the woman, per the Los Angeles Times. Nonetheless, a white mob set fire to the Greenwood neighborhood, which included the area known as "Black Wall Street," killing an estimated 300 people and destroying more than 1,200 homes. The New York Times notes that if remains are unearthed, it still won't be immediately clear if they're tied to the massacre: The city was struck by a flu epidemic in 1919. (More Tulsa stories.)

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