10:54 AM PDT, June 1, 2021
On the centennial anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the country’s most horrific displays of racist violence where hundreds of innocent Black lives were mercilessly lost, scholars are still working to identify all of the victims.
“The goal is to hopefully achieve individual identity, and that will be through DNA analysis,” Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida told CBS News.
Between May 31 and June 1, 1921 rumors spread across Oklahoma about a Black teen who allegedly attacked a white woman. Within hours, a white mob looted and destroyed a section of Tulsa, in a neighborhood called Greenwood, which was a hub of Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.
The area which was home to nearly 10,000 residents was also known as “Black Wall Street.”
The mob slaughtered and gunned down an estimated 300 innocent Black people during the two-day massacre. Nearly 8,000 were left homeless, 1,200 homes were destroyed, and 23 churches burned.
The entire neighborhood was burned to the ground and nearly 36 square blocks were demolished. Even local police officers joined in the mob and white hospitals refused to take in wounded Black individuals.
The excavation team hopes to find victims of the massacre and then identify as many of the nameless victims as possible.
Scholars are optimistic but say that being able to identify individuals from a century ago will be a difficult task.
President Joe Biden on Monday issued an official proclamation as the Day of Remembrance to mark the anniversary of the massacre. Biden plans to meet with survivors Tuesday.
In his proclamation speech, Biden called on Americans to “reflect on the deep roots of racial terror in our Nation and recommit to the work of rooting out systemic racism across our country.”
“I call upon the people of the United States to commemorate the tremendous loss of life and security that occurred over those 2 days in 1921, to celebrate the bravery and resilience of those who survived and sought to rebuild their lives again, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism and help to rebuild communities and lives that have been destroyed by it,” Biden said in the proclamation.
Last week, three of the last living survivors of the massacre testified to Congress in a push for reparations for families, The New York Times reported. No Black people were given compensation in return.
Among the survivors include Viola Fletcher, now 107, who was 7 years old at the time of the massacre, her younger brother, Hughes Van Ellis, now 100, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, now 105.
“We aren’t just black-and-white pictures on a screen,” Van Ellis said. “We are flesh and blood. I was there when it happened. I’m still here.”
Services were also held Monday in Tulsa to pay tribute to the deadly massacre and the impact that, for many, continues to live on today.
Tulsa resident Kevin Ross told CBS News that the deadly event wasn’t taught in school or acknowledged by the white community but is “overjoyed” with the discussions that have begun.
He said it is time to “let the healing begin.”