It’s been just under a century since Tulsa, Okla., saw one of the most brutal and evil acts of American racism imaginable post-slavery. On May 31, 1921 hundreds of Black people were murdered and over a thousand homes, businesses, churches and schools were destroyed all because a Black teenager working as a shoe shiner was accused of assaulting a white woman. (That and because the area known as the “Black Wall Street” was an affluent Black neighborhood, and Black people thriving barely sits right with white people now, let alone nearly a 100 years ago.)
Starting Monday, the city of Tulsa is set to begin digging for what experts suspect are the mass graves of victims of the massacre.
According to the Washington Post, nearly seven months ago, the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey at the University of Oklahoma announced the discovery of “possible common graves” at two sites in Tulsa. The process of excavating one of those sites is now underway.
From the Post:
A team of scientists, archaeologists and forensics anthropologists are scheduled to remove a top layer of soil gather at the city-owned Oaklawn Cemetery, where geophysical radar scans last year detected anomalies consistent with mass graves.
Although the scientists said their radar findings are promising, the only way to determine precisely what lies beneath the ground is to dig. The excavation was delayed for three months by the coronavirus pandemic.
It comes weeks after President Trump appeared in Tulsa at a campaign rally, which drew more than 6,000 people to an indoor arena where few people wore masks. Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Bruce Dart said last week that a spike in new coronavirus cases in Tulsa may be linked to Trump’s rally and the protests it generated.
Despite the pandemic continuing to surge throughout the U.S., Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum, a Republican, has decided not to delay the excavation any further.
“In the past 99 years, no other agency or government entity has moved this far into an investigation that will seek truth into what happened in Tulsa in 1921,” Bynum said, the Post reports. “As we resume with the test excavation, we’re taking all precautions to do so under the safest environment possible. I’m thankful for the health and well being of our partners who have diligently coordinated with our team to move forward with this work during the constraints of the pandemic and record heat we are expecting.”
Side note: Apparently, back in March when the plan to literally dig into Tulsa’s racist history was first announced, some white woman approached Bynum in a diner and accused him of “doing this to make white people feel bad.” Now this definitely proves what Black people already know: A lot of white people refuse to acknowledge Black history as American history because it gets in the way of the “shining city upon a hill” lie they’ve been telling themselves for decades—so Black history just doesn’t count. But don’t worry, I’m sure that same white woman hasn’t gone on to lament Confederate monuments being taken down because “muh heritage and muh history” or anything like that.
According to city officials, the process for uncovering possible mass graves from that dreadful day will take up to two weeks and is part of “a feasibility study to determine 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, including appropriate recovery efforts.” Heavy machinery will be used to remove the top layers of soil, but forensic anthropologists and archaeologists will do the rest of the digging by hand.
If human remains are found at the site, the state Medical Examiner’s Office will determine the cause of death which “would be an important step to the investigation as remains will be close to 100 years old and a Spanish Influenza outbreak occurred in Tulsa in 1919 prior to the Race Massacre in 1921,” officials said in a statement, according to the Post.