Tulsa digs again for victims of 1921 race massacre

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FILE - In this July 14, 2020, file photo, workers climb out of the excavation site as work continues on a potential unmarked mass grave from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Okla. A second excavation begins Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, at a cemetery in an effort to find and identify victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and shed light on violence that left hundreds dead and decimated an area that was once a cultural and economic mecca for African Americans. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki File)

OKLAHOMA CITY – A second excavation begins Monday at a cemetery in an effort to find and identify victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and shed light on violence that left hundreds dead and decimated an area that was once a cultural and economic mecca for African Americans.

“I realize we can tell this story the way it needs to be told, now,” said Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida and a descendant of a survivor of the massacre who is assisting the search, told The Associated Press. ”The story is no longer hidden. We’re putting the completion on this event."

The violence happened on May 31 and June 1 in 1921, when a white mob attacked Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, killing an estimated 300 people and wounding 800 more while robbing and burning businesses, homes and churches.

“People, they were just robbed, white people coming in saying Black people had better property than they had and that that was just not right,” said Stubblefield, whose great-aunt Anna Walker Woods had her home burned and property taken. “Burning, thieving, killing wasn’t enough. They had to prevent Black people from recovering.

“Personally, professionally, spiritually I have an investment in this,” said Stubblefield, a Los Angeles native who said she is in her early 50s and learned of the massacre and her ancestor, who she doesn’t recall ever meeting, in the 1990s.

The two locations to be searched are in Oaklawn Cemetery in north Tulsa, where a search for remains of victims ended without success in July, and near the Greenwood District where the massacre took place.

The earlier excavation was done in an area identified by ground-penetrating radar scans as appearing to be a human-dug pit indicative of a mass grave. It turned out be a filled-in creek, said Mayor G.T. Bynum, who first proposed looking for victims of the violence in 2018 and later budgeted $100,000 to fund it after previous searches failed to find victims.

The massacre — which happened two years after what is known as the “Red Summer,” when hundreds of African Americans died at the hands of white mobs in violence around the U.S. —- has been depicted in recent HBO shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft County.”