Tulsa Massacre Survivors Ask Justice Dept. to Intervene in Search for Graves

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Survivors of the 1921 massacre and descendants of victims said they did not spot metropolis officials to hunt for the graves of Black residents who were killed by a achromatic mob.

Community members carried a container  holding quality  remains from a excavation  tract  to an on-site forensics laboratory  astatine  Oaklawn Cemetery successful  Tulsa, Okla., successful  June.
Credit...Joseph Rushmore for The New York Times

Aug. 18, 2021Updated 6:24 p.m. ET

A radical of survivors and descendants of victims of the race massacre successful Tulsa, Okla., person asked the Justice Department to instrumentality implicit the hunt for wide graves of Black residents who were killed during the rampage successful 1921.

The group, Justice for Greenwood, said it did not spot metropolis officials to pb the hunt for the graves oregon to grip immoderate remains that whitethorn beryllium found.

“To guarantee the deaths of the massacre victims whose remains are recovered are decently and thoroughly investigated, we are calling connected the Department of Justice to enactment arsenic a neutral, third-party researcher and to instrumentality implicit the search,” the radical said successful a missive that was signed by the 3 surviving victims of the massacre, arsenic good arsenic authorities legislators and assemblage and metropolis leaders.

The Justice Department should analyse and “provide answers and findings that the massacre survivors and their descendants, and the remainder of the public, tin trust,” they said successful the letter, which was dated Friday.

A spokeswoman said the Justice Department had received the missive but declined to comment.

The metropolis has been moving with archaeologists and forensic anthropologists to hunt for and place the remains.

As galore arsenic 300 radical died during the rampage, which was led by achromatic looters who acceptable occurrence to the businesses and homes of Black residents successful the Greenwood vicinity successful June 1921. Greenwood, past a booming concern district, comprised immoderate 40 blocks of restaurants, hotels and theaters owned and tally by Black entrepreneurs. The mob destroyed it successful little than 24 hours.

A spokeswoman for the metropolis of Tulsa declined to remark connected the missive due to the fact that members of Justice for Greenwood have a pending suit against the city demanding compensation for the losses that descendants of the victims and survivors endured.

In 2018, Mayor G.T. Bynum announced that the metropolis would behaviour a hunt for bodies, focusing connected 4 sites, including Oaklawn Cemetery, that had been identified arsenic imaginable locations of wide graves of the victims.

“The lone mode to determination guardant successful our enactment to bring astir reconciliation successful Tulsa is by seeking the information honestly,” Mr. Bynum said successful a connection posted connected the city’s website. “We are committed to exploring what happened successful 1921 done a corporate and transparent process.”

The authors of the missive to the Justice Department contended that immoderate of those progressive successful the hunt effort, whom they did not name, were the descendants of radical who “both encouraged and actively participated successful the unit that destroyed Greenwood successful 1921 successful the archetypal place.”

“The metropolis has an evident struggle of interest,” said Damario Solomon-Simmons, the enforcement manager of Justice for Greenwood. “We bash not judge the metropolis has the motivation authorization oregon the tendency to bash the close happening successful this situation.”

Mr. Solomon-Simmons, a lawyer, is representing the 3 survivors and descendants of the victims successful the lawsuit.

The massacre followed a accidental brushwood betwixt 2 teenagers — Dick Rowland, 19, a Black footwear shiner, and Sarah Page, 17, a achromatic elevator operator. Mr. Rowland entered the elevator connected May 31, 1921. A shriek was heard from inside, and Mr. Rowland fled.

Accused of sexually assaulting Ms. Page, helium was arrested that greeting and jailed successful the Tulsa County Courthouse. A ample radical of equipped Black people, fearful that Mr. Rowland would beryllium lynched, rushed to the courthouse to guarantee his safety.

The charges against Mr. Rowland were aboriginal dropped, and the authorities yet concluded that helium had astir apt tripped and stepped connected Ms. Page’s foot, according to a 2001 study from the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

But by June 1, the time aft the arrest, a ample mob of achromatic Tulsans had begun mounting occurrence to businesses successful Greenwood. People were killed connected the thoroughfare oregon simply vanished.

No 1 was ever charged. In the years and decades aft the massacre, the metropolis and the Chamber of Commerce tried to screen it up, distorting the communicative to contiguous Black residents arsenic the convulsive instigators.

In June, Kary Stackelbeck, the authorities archaeologist, led a squad that uncovered much than 30 unmarked graves astatine Oaklawn Cemetery.

During a quality conference that month, she told reporters that determination were nary dates oregon immoderate documentation to assistance place the bodies.

Nineteen bodies were considered viable capable for a forensic analysis, she said.

During the aforesaid quality conference, Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist, said that lone 1 of the bodies that had been examined showed signs of trauma — a Black antheral who was recovered with a slug lodged successful his shoulder.

She said that the investigation of the bodies was preliminary and that a last study would yet beryllium presented to the city’s nationalist oversight committee during a nationalist meeting.

Dr. Stubblefield said the process of identifying the bodies oregon figuring retired erstwhile and however they died was analyzable successful ample portion due to the fact that determination was nary accusation astir them.

“It’s a hard project,” Dr. Stubblefield said, adding that the portion of the cemetery wherever the bodies were recovered was “shockingly underdocumented.”.

The assemblage of the antheral who was recovered with the slug was well-preserved, she said, but the remains of the different bodies that had been examined were “brittle and falling apart,” making it hard to find signs of trauma.

The metropolis reburied the bodies aft the analysis, infuriating the survivors and the descendants of the victims, Mr. Solomon-Simmons said.

“None of those bodies person been decently identified,” helium said. “That’s portion of the uproar.”


Credit...Mike Simons/Tulsa World, via Associated Press

In a missive to the City Council, Mr. Bynum said that the bodies had been “temporarily” reburied arsenic portion of a program that was approved and discussed astatine nationalist meetings earlier the exhumation began.

He said the extremity was to find whether immoderate of the remains belonged to the victims of the massacre, a process that could instrumentality years, and to find disposable DNA to link the remains with descendants.

“We person been wide since we began this process a fewer years agone that the metropolis of Tulsa is successful this for the agelong haul,” Mr. Bynum said. “When you commencement searching for victims astir a period aft they were buried, determination are not speedy and casual answers.”

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