Mayor Bynum recently discussed his plans for locating mass graves from the Tulsa Race Massacre.
In the summer of 1921, Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, also known as Black Wall Street, was razed by a mob comprised of the police and white Tulsans. The details regarding the events leading up to the Tulsa Race Massacre have been foggy ever since, as they have regarding the event’s catalyst and its aftermath. One thing is for certain: all that was left of Black Tulsa, which had been burgeoning with success, was rubble.
After the catastrophic destruction, white city leaders had passed zoning legislation that made it impossible for the Black community to rebuild to its former stature. Ever since then, many of the official facts have been in question. For example, in 1921, only 36 deaths were reported. In 2001, an Oklahoma Commission Report found that the death toll was anywhere between 300 and 400, and that it was possible that the massacre was a conspiracy against the Black community. The commission also did research into a rumor that has long been circulating about the existence of mass graves, but the commission ran out of time and money to explore any further after identifying three possible sites.
On October 2, 2018, Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum published a post on his Facebook page referencing a 2011 This Land Press article about the potential for mass graves, and he announced that he has been working toward closure of the issue. After reading the article as a city councilor, Bynum began doing more research with city councilor Jack Henderson. They would eventually turn in their findings to City Administration but with no results.
Bynum wrote that he “promised [himself] that if [he] ever became mayor and had the authority to direct further investigation, [he] would.” Now that Bynum is mayor, he has been working on this issue over the past few months and decided to go public after being asked by a North Tulsa pastor about the possibility of mass graves. Bynum explained in his posts that there are three potential locations: Newblock Park, Booker T. Washington Cemetery and Oaklawn Cemetery. The latter shows the most promise for the existence of mass graves, and there is even an eyewitness account of Black bodies being dumped there during the riot.
Bynum continued to explain the three tasks moving forward. First, determine if there are unmarked graves at any of the sites in question. Second, determine the nature of the graves, if they are found. Finally, if the bodies found appear to be victims of the race massacre, then use any means of forensic examination possible to determine identity and cause of death. Bynum’s post discussed the issue respectfully, and he made it clear that there is uncertainty in what this project might find. Whatever the case, Bynum believes this is another important and progressive step of many made in recent years toward finally reconciling what happened in Greenwood nearly a century ago.