Nearly 100 years ago, white rioters laid siege to the nation’s most affluent black neighborhood, colloquially known as “Black Wall Street,” in Tulsa, Okla., setting fire to homes, destroying businesses and killing hundreds of black people. The wounds of that incident still scar the town, particularly because so many unresolved questions—like where some 300 black bodies were buried—have never been answered.
On Tuesday, Mayor G.T. Bynum announced that the city will finally reopen an investigation into possible mass graves from the white supremacist riot of 1921.
As Mayor Bynum told the Washington Post, “We owe it to the community to know if there are mass graves in our city. We owe it to the victims and their family members.
“We will do everything we can to find out what happened in 1921,” he added.
The announcement follows an earlier Post piece, published Sept. 28., about unresolved questions regarding the Tulsa massacre, particularly as Greenwood Avenue—the neighborhood known as Black Wall Street—is being gentrified.
Tulsa city officials have known for at least 20 years about specific sites that may contain mass graves. As the Post reports, state investigators and archaeologists began exploring claims of mass graves in 1998—working off of eyewitness recollections and using electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar to confirm anomalies in the environment that would suggest a mass burial. Excavation was even recommended by a 2001 state-ordered commission to investigate the Tulsa race riot.
But mayor after mayor passed on the recommendation—citing concerns over costs or disturbing the bodies buried, say the city’s black activists.
The city will now look into two Tulsa cemeteries and a former dump that were previously identified as potential burial sites, Mayor Bynum said.
Kristi Williams, a local activist, told the Post that Mayor Bynum’s announcement “is a true step toward reconciliation.”
As Tiffany Crutcher, sister of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black motorist who was shot and killed by a white Tulsa police officer two years ago, told the Root, the 1921 massacre continues to be relevant today.
“The same culture in Tulsa that burnt down black Wall Street is the same culture that killed my twin brother, and it hasn’t changed,” she said.
Responding to the mayor’s announcement, Crutcher told the Post that the victims of the massacre were “never properly memorialized.”
“We have suffered residual effects of this for close to 100 years,” she said. “Our ancestors are crying out for justice, and we feel it is our duty to see to it.”