Tulsa protesters condemn reburial of remains excavated in search of massacre victims
Protests erupted outside a Tulsa, Okla., cemetery on Friday as officials reburied the remains of 19 people previously exhumed in a search for victims from city’s 1921 race massacre.
The demonstrators argued that the city should have held a funeral ceremony.
The city began excavating portions of Tulsa's Oaklawn Cemetery last year as part of an effort to find unmarked graves from the violence that occurred a century ago when a white mob stormed a predominantly Black area known as “Black Wall Street.”
About 35 city blocks were destroyed in the rampage, and while Oklahoma originally recorded 36 deaths in the attack, a 2001 commission revealed that the number of fatalities could actually be as high as 300.
The city said in a statement Friday that in March, a public oversight committee approved the reburial of the remains after it said that “on-site forensic analysis, documentation and DNA sampling were complete.”
The city moved forward Friday with carrying out the reburial in a process closed to the public, prompting pushback from the community.
Demonstrators argued that local residents, particularly those who are descendants of massacre victims, should have had more of a voice in deciding how the reburial would be carried out.
One of the protesters, Bobby Eaton, told local ABC affiliate KTUL, “It’s disgusting and disrespectful that these are our family members and we are outside of the gate and they are inside of the gate where they are.”
“We don’t care what all the big time city officials say, it’s all about our loved ones who suffered here," he added.
Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield attempted to calm the crowd Friday.
Stubblefield revealed last month that a bullet was found among one set of remains that had trauma to the body.
“We are not done, we have not stopped,” she told protesters, adding that a public report on the investigation’s findings would likely be released in the fall, according to The Associated Press.
Friday’s public statement issued by the city noted that it “remains committed to transparency during this investigation and is focused on fulfilling our commitment to this phase of work that is still underway, as we have for the past two years of the investigation.”
The city went on to say that it was required to “abide by the permit requirements that were filed with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, stating the remains would be temporarily interred at Oaklawn Cemetery (an interment plan was required before moving forward with the excavation).”
City spokesperson Michelle Brooks added that “work to identify descendants and establish a permanent memorial will proceed in the future,” according to the wire service.