After almost 100 years of silence, the skeletons may finally be coming out the closet after Mayor G.T. Bynum (R) said in an interview, “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.” This statement came after The Washington Post circulated an article about the issue on September 28th, 2018.
‘They was killing black people and running them out of the city.’ recounted Vanessa Hall-Harper, a Tulsa city council member, grandmother when she was asked about The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. While some call it a riot, others report it as a massacre on the "Negro Wall Street".
In Tulsa, OK, on Greenwood Avenue, a black business district that was so prosperous Booker T. Washington called it "The Negro Wall Street", a mob of angry white men stormed like troopers for two days, setting buildings & homes on fire and murdering, in plain site, large numbers of African Americans - many of them wealthy, successful, business owners - while running train-loads of them out of town and dumping them into either the Arkansas River or into a shallow mass grave.
Almost 100 years have passed and, now as the land that was once prosperous begins to shows sign of prosperity once again, the current mayor has decided to reopen an investigation and to look into claims of mass graves that may exist in various parts of the city.
Now there is a minor-league baseball stadium and plans for a BMX motocross headquarters, an arts district targeting millennials, and a shopping complex made from empty portable storage containers. There’s is also a high-end apartment complex with a yoga studio and pub. There is not; however, any real answers to age-old questions.
A DARK HISTORY
“Before my grandmother died, I asked her what happened,” said Hall-Harper, whose council district includes Greenwood. “She began to whisper. She said, ‘They was killing black people and running them out of the city.’ I didn’t even know about the massacre until I was an adult. And I was raised here. It wasn’t taught about in the schools. It was taboo to speak about it.”
This wasn't the first time an activist tried to get Tulsa officials to investigate and bring closure to an issue that really never surfaced or saw the light of day, until recently they just gave a general blanket response: "not enough evidence" or "we do not have the money to investigate". However, things rapidly changed the minds of the officials in Tulsa, OK after DeNeen L. Brown, an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post, published an article on September 28th, 2018. (Read Article 'They Was Killing Black People')
On Tuesday, October 2nd, current mayor of Tulsa released a statement addressing the event which claimed 300 black lives and left 10,000+ African Americans homeless. The mayor said the city will reexamine two Tulsa cemeteries and a former dump — all places that state investigators and archaeologists first identified as possible mass grave sites in 1998.
Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old shoe shiner, walked to the Drexel Building, which had the only toilet downtown available to black people. Rowland stepped into an elevator. Sarah Page, a white elevator operator, began to scream or cry - details of what really happened, of course, are scarce.
However, Oklahoma Historical Society offered up a "likely scenario": “While it is still uncertain as to precisely what happened in the Drexel Building on May 30, 1921, the most common explanation is that Rowland stepped on Page’s foot as he entered the elevator, causing her to scream,”.
On May 21st, Tulsa Tribune printed and circulated this version of the news: "A negro delivery boy who gave his name to the public as “Diamond Dick” but who has been identified as Dick Rowland, was arrested on South Greenwood avenue this morning by Officers Carmichael and Pack, charged with attempting to assault the 17-year-old white elevator girl in the Drexel building early yesterday." (see news archive)
Then Tulsa Tribune ran this: “To Lynch Negro Tonight.” As mobs of whites came to see Diamond Dick get beat by white hands, two African American War veterans were there to protect and ensure the integrity of the public spectacle. Things escalated quickly.
Gun shots, white's flying airplanes, trains to carry off bodies to their final resting place, fires to buildings & homes - an epic riot that somehow never found its way to American History - or even the local history. Residence to this day, black or white, still are unaware or only partially aware of the massacre that took place on the land that they are living on.
Then again, massacres of this nature appear to have been more common than what we may like to believe or entertain. Another example of a massacre dubbed "race riot" would be The Rosewood Massacre in Florida in 1923. Media reported a few dead, witnesses reported a whole other incident. Fake news is not new news.
Although Mayor G.T. Bynum, a Republican, is hoping to reopen and investigate the matter, some local activist as well as residents who know their local government well have shared their doubt citing the cities tight budget.
In 1999, Clyde Eddy, who was 10 at the time of the massacre, told authorities that he saw white men digging a trench in the Potters’ Field section of Oaklawn Cemetery in 1921.
Eddy further told officials that he peeked inside wooden crates and saw stacks of dead black people.
Based on Eddy’s story, state archaeologists led by Clyde Snow, one of the world’s foremost forensic anthropologists, searched for evidence of mass graves in Oaklawn Cemetery in the area Eddy specified.
According to The Washington Post, investigators discovered an “anomaly” bearing “all the characteristics of a dug pit or trench with vertical walls and an undefined object within the approximate center of the feature,” the Tulsa Race Riot Commission concluded in its 2001 report. “With Mr. Eddy’s testimony, this trench-like feature takes on the properties of a mass grave.”
In 1998, seventy-seven years after the massacre, authorities began investigating the claims of mass graves. Investigators used electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar to search for evidence at Newblock Park, which operated as a dump in 1921, Booker T. Washington Cemetery and Oaklawn Cemetery.
At each site, they found anomalies “that merited further investigation,” according to a report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.
The commission recommended excavation, but it never happened.