Tulsa race massacre: Exhumations to resume in push to ID victims

US officials are seeking to identify victims of a 1921 massacre in the once-thriving neighbourhood known as ‘Black Wall Street’.

Tulsa race massacre
In this 1921 image provided by the Library of Congress, smoke billows over Tulsa, Oklahoma, the United States [Alvin C Krupnick Co/Library of Congress via AP Photo]

Some of the 19 bodies exhumed from a cemetery in the US city of Tulsa, Oklahoma are set to be removed again as authorities seek to identify the victims of a deadly 1921 riot in an area once known as “Black Wall Street”.

The latest exhumations of bodies, some of which were taken last year from Oaklawn Cemetery, will be followed by another excavation for additional remains.

“There were 14 of the 19 that fit the criteria for further DNA analysis,” city spokesperson Michelle Brooks said. “These are the ones that will be re-exhumed.”

The 14 sets of remains were sent to Intermountain Forensics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Brooks said two sets have enough DNA recovered to begin sequencing.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the 14 will be exhumed a second time, Brooks said.

Tulsa last year marked the 100-year anniversary of the violence, which saw white mobs storm the streets of the thriving Black community of Greenwood on May 31, 1921.

Historians estimate that between 75 and 300 people were killed. Homes and businesses were burned to the ground and Black families were forced to run for their lives.

For decades, Tulsa massacre survivors and their descendants have pushed for recognition and reparations, and their calls have grown louder as the United States reckons with its long history of anti-Black racism, slavery and state violence.

Last year, Joe Biden became the first US president to visit the site of the attacks.

“This was not a riot, this was a massacre,” Biden said in a speech at that time. “[It was] among the worst in our history – but not the only one and, for too long, forgotten by our history.”

None of the remains recovered so far are confirmed as victims of the massacre.

Intermountain Forensics is seeking people who believe they are descendants of victims to provide genetic material to help scientists find potential matches.

The exhumations will be followed by another search for bodies in an area south and west of the areas previously excavated in 2020 and 2021.

The latest search is expected to end by November 18.

Source: Al Jazeera, AP