Tulsa Massacre Mass Graves

Teran Tease, 5, watches at Oaklawn Cemetery during a test excavation in the search for possible mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre on Tuesday. Mike Simons/Tulsa World

The search for unmarked graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is a meaningful and worthwhile endeavor, even if the first excavation ended without finding any human remains.

The exploration in the Sexton area at Oaklawn Cemetery ended Wednesday but shouldn’t end the investigation, and it won’t.

Each day during the search, a small crowd gathered to bear witness and pray over the souls. It was an emotional experience for many Tulsans who feel the weight of history upon them.

This search for possible homicide victims is part of a long-awaited racial reckoning for the city that includes other efforts such as reforming police practices, addressing health and education disparities and ending voter disenfranchisement.

Rooting out bias in the city’s public and private institutions must include righting the wrongs of this century-old sin. This is search for truth. We’re checking the history we have taught for nearly 100 years against reality.

Death certificates on 37 people were filed after the massacre, but generations of oral history and the 2001 Race Riot Commission authorized by the state Legislature put the number much higher.

Mayor G.T. Bynum made the politically courageous decision for the city to use modern technology to find any mass graves. The city is at the beginning of that journey, not its end.

“(T)his is just the beginning of our work to bring healing and justice to the families,” Bynum said Wednesday. “We remain committed to find out what happened to our fellow Tulsans in 1921.”

The search uncovered artifacts that may date to that period, including shoes arranged in a way consistent with some traditions in African American burials. It is a start to finding answers.

Gilcrease Museum will house the items until a decision on a permanent home is decided.

We are encouraged by the mayor’s promise to resume the search in other sections of the city considered possible grave sites.

The search must continue as a moral responsibility to Tulsans who may have been murdered and forgotten, as a step toward facing today’s race divide and as a means of making sure we know our own history.


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