Researchers are nonetheless in search of resting locations for victims of the Tulsa bloodbath: NPR

99 years ago in Tulsa, Okla., White mobs slaughtered hundreds of black citizens in one of the worst racial massacres in US history. Historians have long tried to find out where victims are buried.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ninety-nine years ago, white mobs attacked Tulsa, Okla., The neighborhood known as Black Wall Street. They destroyed houses, set fire to businesses and killed up to 300 people in what is now the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. As Chris Polansky of member station KWGS reports, the city is still trying to find the final resting place of some of these victims.

CHRIS POLANSKY, BYLINE: Roberta Clardy has set up a garden chair on a lawn between US Highway 75 and the gates of Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery.

ROBERTA CLARDY: Right now it was more emotional than yesterday.

POLANSKY: She watches a team of researchers dig with shovels and heavy machinery in a corner of the cemetery with no tombstones. Investigators say ground penetrating radar suggests the presence of a mass grave. Many victims were never found, even after almost a century. Clardy says her family had been in Tulsa for generations before the massacre.

CLARDY: I don’t know if I can explain. You are emotional and just feel terrible. What on earth have we been doing for 99 years?

GT BYNUM: With all this work we’re doing right now, the city of Tulsa should have done this in 1921.

POLANSKY: This is Tulsa’s Mayor, GT Bynum, a Republican. In 2018 he announced that the town hall would help finance the work.

BYNUM: For us in the city it is important that the descendants of these victims know that our commitment to this investigation is long-term.

POLANSKY: One of those descendants is Regina Goodwin, a representative of Oklahoma State, whose district includes Greenwood, the historic focal point of the black community of Tulsa.

REGINA GOODWIN: We want all ancestors to know that they will be remembered. We want the public to know they deserve a more sacred resting place instead of being thrown away like trash.

POLANSKY: Goodwin is glad the job is done, but says she and others have been on committees for decades trying to get this done.

GOODWIN: It’s not about 2021. It’s really about the 99 years in which very little has been done. We went backwards. And I don’t think you should have to wait for a centenary.

POLANSKY: Work was scheduled to start in April but has been postponed due to the pandemic. The team has been digging every day since they started on Monday. They say they didn’t find any remains, but forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield says they feel safe.

PHOEBE STUBBLEFIELD: It’s not one hundred percent, but it’s a very high level of security – enough that we should be digging there. Because you don’t disturb dead people just because you feel like it.

POLANSKY: For NPR News, I’m Chris Polansky in Tulsa, Okla.

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