Experts at the University of Oklahoma said they have discovered a possible mass grave site from the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots at a city cemetery, which provides new insight to a horrific event that destroyed one of the nation’s wealthiest black communities. Scott Hammerstedt, a senior researcher for the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, said on Monday at a public hearing in Tulsa that the experts used geophysical scanning to identify two spots at the Oaklawn Cemetery, but it is still unclear how many bodies could be buried. “I’m as confident as I can be in the results that this is a very big candidate with something associated with the massacre,” he said. In the meantime, Tulsa officials are working to gain permission to scan the privately-owned Booker T. Washington Cemetery, which researchers say could bear more bodies from the massacre.
The riots began in May 1921 after Dick Rowland, a black teenager, was falsely accused of having assaulted a white woman named Sarah Page, which resulted in a standoff between black men who sought to protect Rowland and roughly 1,500 armed white men. Ku Klux Klan rioters burned down the Greenwood District of Tulsa on June 1, 1921, targeting black citizens and destroying their businesses over the course of 18 hours. Officials reported at the time that only 36 people were killed in the riots, however experts have long said that the number could reach hundreds.