Learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, on the one hundredth anniversary of the crime, and how the community of Tulsa is coming to terms with its past, present, and future.
Read Full Transcript
Turner: I am coming to the gates of this city to remind Tulsa of the greatest race massacre that has ever occurred on American soil.
This was done when a white mob descended upon law-abiding citizens, a generation out of slavery.
They wanted to live out the American dream.
And, Tulsa, how did you repay them?
You went down to Greenwood and you burned, looted, and killed innocent people.
Narrator: On most Wednesday afternoons, the Reverend Robert Turner conducts a one-man protest outside Tulsa's City Hall.
He is determined to obtain justice for an act of racial terrorism against the Black community 100 years ago known as the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Turner: We will not wait for another moment to go by.
Turner: I have been led by God to help call the city to repentance.
You have folks who had their houses destroyed, businesses destroyed, churches destroyed, and that's why I go out to City Hall every Wednesday that the Lord allows and I plead for justice.
Turner: We demand... for there to be... reparations now!
The blood of the martyr upon your head.
Narrator: Four miles south, the scene along Tulsa's Arkansas River is more tranquil, but for some, it is no less disturbing.
In December 2019, an archaeological survey team reported that a section of this riverbank known as The Canes may be linked to the 1921 massacre.
That crime has defined race relations in Tulsa for a hundred years.
DeNeen: The phrase 'water is life' is not an absolute.
The Arkansas River for many generations sustained life for First Nations people, settlers, pioneers, and Black people.
But the river bank may also conceal bodies of Black people who were murdered nearly a hundred years ago in a two-day frenzy of racial terror.
[ Beeping ] Forensic scientists and archeologists in 2019 scanned this area with ground-penetrating radar and found subterranean areas that may be consistent with mass graves.
So the city of Tulsa began physically searching for bodies of Black people.
The search for the mass graves is a powerful moment in the city's history.
What happened in 1921 was a horrible atrocity, and for nearly 100 years, it was covered up.
It was left out of textbooks.
Many survivors did not talk about it.
Many survivors only whispered about it.
My family is from Oklahoma.
My father lives in Tulsa.
And so there is... For generations, I believe, there's been a desire for this story to be told.
Narrator: The latest chapter in that story begins here.
Oaklawn is Tulsa's oldest public cemetery, the final resting place for pioneers, Civil War veterans, and prominent families.
The indigent and the unknown are buried here, as well, in a potter's field in the cemetery's southwest corner.
Just two known victims of the 1921 massacre are buried here.
Survivors of that massacre, along with descendants and community activists, have long claimed that other victims were also buried at Oaklawn in unmarked graves.
Their claim was bolstered two decades ago by forensic scientists who identified underground patterns during a preliminary radar scan.
Warner: You don't know for sure if you've got a good anomaly.
You don't know until you get under the dirt.
It could be the man who's listed in the ledger or mass graves.
Let me show you where we're at.
Narrator: On this afternoon in early October 2019, independent investigator Betsy Warner shared her findings with and human rights investigator Eric Stover.
Warner: This map, what's interesting is it shows, quite clearly marked, the Jim Crow Line, and it's from about 1935-36.
If you'll notice on here, there's a whole lot of stuff going on in the white section, and there's not very much going on down here in the black section.
Narrator: In her three decades at DeNeen Brown has tried to break the silence imposed on the African-American community.
DeNeen: Stories have power, and if they're told, they can change the future and they can provide some healing.
DeNeen: Where do you think the bodies went, though?
Warner: I think there's a lot of them in this Sexton side right here.
DeNeen: My goal here would be to finally find answers for some of the descendants of the victims and, if they do find bodies, put those souls to rest.
Warner: 20 years ago, they searched quite a large area, and the anomaly was right in here, okay?
So this time around, this is where we're going, and it's the only place in the entire cemetery where there's not a marker or a notation that there's even anything there.
Stover: This has been ignored for 100 years, and it's important now that, as best we can, we investigate and, when we do it, that we engage the community and the community is there to see that a proper investigation is taking place.
Stover: So the area runs along here.
Narrator: Eric Stover is an authority on international humanitarian law.
He has probed conflict, genocide, and mass murder for four decades.
Stover: The reason I've worked with forensic teams around the world to investigate war crimes and human rights abuses is to set the historical record, so that those who may have perpetrated the crimes or supported those who perpetrated the crimes do not have a false history out there of what took place.
DeNeen: This is a haunting site.
This is where people were killed.
And this was one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history.
So I talked to Black people on the ground, and I listened to their stories, and what they pointed out was these anomalies in the ground had been discovered in 1999, but nothing had been done about it.
When I wrote the story in it went on the front page.
The next day, there's a minister at a local community meeting.
He holds up the paper and he's talking to the mayor and he demands some answers.
And the mayor decides to reopen the investigation.
Narrator: The city of Tulsa's decision to reopen the investigation was as surprising as it was uncommon.
American communities rarely examine, much less atone for, their records of racial violence.
Beginning in the Reconstruction era, Black people throughout the country were terrorized by white mobs acting with impunity.
Freeman: In the post-Civil War era, you tend to see surges of anti-Black violence at moments when Blacks are asserting themselves, are achieving some level of political power, social power, economic power.
And then you see this during the latter stages of World War I in its immediate aftermath.
First of all, 400,000 African-American men served in the armed forces, half of them in combat units, and many of them go to Europe, they go to France.
They have the experience of being given a gun and told, 'Shoot the enemies of the United States.'
They come back to the United States, and they're just not willing to go back to the subordinate status they had before, and whites sense it.
So that's a huge disruption.
The second disruption is a kind of demographic shift, which is a shift of African-Americans out of the rural South to cities in the North and in the Midwest, accelerated by the demand for workers during World War I.
And these kinds of sudden surges of African-Americans into communities, into jobs creates all kinds of new tensions, and many whites in these communities feel competition, they feel a threat to their positions.
Narrator: Following World War I, the epidemic of racial violence was given a name -- Red Summer.
Johnson: Red Summer, summer and fall of 1919.
It was dubbed Red Summer by James Weldon Johnson of NAACP.
Red is metaphorical.
Red is a reference to the blood that flowed in the streets from civil unrest and these so-called riots in places like New York and Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Omaha, Chicago, Elaine, Arkansas, Longview, Texas, and on and on and on.
Freeman: It had long been the case in much of the United States, not just the South, that acts of violence against people of color were rarely punished.
So they felt that they were free to engage in these acts of violence.
There were very few restraints.
There were some.
The most important one was Black people fighting back.
Narrator: Despite persistent racial violence, Oklahoma's Black communities thrived.
DeNeen: Oklahoma had the most independently run Black towns of any state in the country.
Just days, weeks, years out of slavery, Black people came here and they established towns.
They created their own governments.
They created their own postal systems, their own communities.
They were just living in a Black world, for lack of a better word.
Narrator: When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, many Black families and freedmen settled in Tulsa's Greenwood district, which became the hub of a larger Black population in the region.
Williams: People always ask, why was Greenwood so successful?
It wasn't just because there were barbershops, there were businesses.
It was land ownership.
There were a lot of Black people who came here through the Trail of Tears, but they didn't come willingly.
They were slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes.
And in 1866, with the Indian Treaty, they released those slaves, but they gave those slaves, based on the treaty, 160 acres of land.
Black people owned so much land here in Oklahoma, and all those townships would come to Greenwood and spend their dollars.
Robinson II: You not only had what was going on in Tulsa, on Greenwood, happening, but you had many, many Black towns rising up and supporting that growth around it.
And so when you think about, how was there such tremendous wealth built in 19-teens and 1920s, we have to understand that it was not just one boulevard, it was not just 40 blocks.
It was a network of African-Americans, freedmen in Oklahoma living together, supporting each other.
DeNeen: The community of Greenwood was one of the wealthiest communities in the country.
They say it was one of the wealthiest Black communities.
Booker T. Washington called it 'Black Wall Street' because of the wealth that flowed here.
There were people who had oil wells.
There were two hotels.
There was a bank, two Black newspapers, movie theaters.
It was a thriving, bustling community.
Narrator: On Tuesday morning, May 31, 1921, Greenwood was a beacon of Black prosperity.
Two days later, Greenwood was rubble and ash.
Kristi Williams has spent decades researching the atrocities of those days, which her great-aunt escaped.
Williams: The massacre began when a young Black man was in an elevator with a young white woman.
He bumped into the young white woman, and she screamed, and then they said that this young Black man assaulted this young white woman.
The young Black man was put in jail.
When he was put in jail, all the men in Greenwood got together.
They went down to City Hall, to the jail where he was, to protect him from being lynched.
And they had guns with them, and there were tons of white men and police around the jail.
And there was one Black man who had a gun.
One of the white men said, '[Bleep] what are you going to do with that gun?'
And he said, 'I'll use it if I have to.'
And they struggled for the gun.
It just started a big fight.
They were shooting at each other, running, trying to get away.
And they ran through downtown back into Greenwood.
Then the looting started and then the fires to the homes.
Goodwin: My grandfather, being that he was a senior in high school, and my great-aunt at the time, they were both at Booker T. Washington High School and seniors in that class.
And typically, when we would be going through what we know as prom and getting ready to graduate, it was my grandfather, they were down there decorating the hotel where they were prepared to celebrate.
And they got word that trouble was coming, right.
On May the 31st, trouble was coming.
They had no idea.
Narrator: 75 years later, survivors like Veneice Simms and George Monroe still remember the horrors they saw as children.
Simms: We could hear the bullets were falling in our yard, and that's when my father told us that we got to go.
We didn't know whether to fall down, run, or what.
Hide, you didn't have nowhere to hide but go in the house.
And we sat there and could see the blaze, the fire, you know, where they were burning and things like that, over on this side of Tulsa.
Monroe: What I remember mostly is when, all of a sudden, my mother was excited, is because that... she saw four men coming toward our house, and all of them had torches, lighted torches, on their side, coming straight to our house.
Simms: We could hear planes and knew the fighting was going on here and the shooting things, 'cause you could -- It was just like a boom, boom, boom, boom.
That's all you could hear was boom, boom, boom.
Narrator: Police were unable, or unwilling, to stop the violence, possibly because the police chief had sworn in hundreds of white mob members as special deputies.
The National Guard was called in.
Firemen were unable, or unwilling, to stop the conflagration.
Simms: They were taking the wounded.
They set up a place where they would take the wounded.
They had cots, these army cots. That's what the wounded was on.
They were there with legs all shot up and just all types of wounded men.
Monroe: When these people came in, these four men came in, they walked right past the bed, right straight to the curtains in the house, and they set fire to the curtains, and as a result, everything in and around was burning.
And that's what I remember more than anything else, and that eventually, they left after then, and eventually, this fire caused our house to burn down completely to the ground.
Goodwin: I learned what was destroyed in our family.
I know the terror that they experienced when they were in their home and, you know, they were hiding in the bathtub.
And had a neighbor come by that made my relatives get out of their own bathtub so that they could have some kind of safety.
I know the stories of people going down the train tracks and having only their suit of clothes, and they would put on another pair of pants on top of that pair of pants, another jacket on top of that jacket, because that's all they had, and they would take off, right, trying to go to some kind of safety.
The fact that the house, their very house, was saved because there's a story that says J.H. Goodwin, who was very fair complected, he looked like a white man, right, was very fair complected, but he was Black.
When the white racist mob was coming, he directed them away from the house, right, and they kept going.
So that house was saved, but many of the other properties were destroyed.
And again, never, ever, nobody was ever charged, nobody ever convicted, in terms of the murder, in terms of the looting, in terms of the burning, in terms of the terroristic acts that took place.
Narrator: During the rampage, a number of families took refuge at the Vernon AME Church on Greenwood Avenue.
They hid in the church basement until mobs set fire to the structure.
Turner: In 1921, we were building our superstructure, and they destroyed that, the superstructure, in the massacre.
But thanks be to God, our basement survived.
And the Sunday immediately following the massacre, we came to church.
Narrator: Throughout the mayhem, thousands of Black Tulsans were rounded up and confined to fairgrounds and ball fields.
The National Guard imposed martial law on June 1st.
Thereafter, Black citizens were required to carry identity cards.
The rampage lasted an estimated 16 hours.
It ended on the evening of June 1st with more than 35 square blocks of the district destroyed.
10,000 Black people were left homeless and destitute.
Hundreds were injured.
The precise number of dead is unknown.
Estimates range from 39 to 300.
Stover: After the massacre, hundreds fled to towns around Tulsa or to other states.
We also know that there were those who were murdered and buried in mass graves.
The third group were those who were taken and put into internment camps.
So this is what happened to the Black community.
And one has to stop and think what that means.
The devastation of losing your home, your business, family members, and then to walk out of these internment camps and have to rebuild.
Johnson: It's unclear as to whether or not we'll ever know the identities of the perpetrators, but let's remember when we talk about the direct perpetrators, we're talking about thousands of folks, a large segment of the white male population in the community.
We know through ancillary evidence that parts of the leadership of the community were at least complicit in what happened.
We know, for example, that the the daily afternoon newspaper, published a series of incendiary articles and editorials that really fomented hostility in the white community against the Black community.
Narrator: Despite the unprecedented horrors of May 31st and June 1st, no perpetrators were charged or tried.
Indeed the victimized community was blamed.
Stover: After the massacre, a grand jury made of 12 white men appointed by the governor indicted a number of Black citizens for the massacre, the riot, they called it, and some whites, as well.
But in the end, the grand jury effectively blamed it on the Black community of Greenwood.
Narrator: The Tulsa City Commission issued a report two weeks after the massacre.
In it, Mayor T.D. Evans was unequivocal -- 'Let the blame for this negro uprising lie right where it belongs, on those armed negroes and their followers who started this trouble and who instigated it.'
Bynum: We've since unearthed the City Commission meeting minutes from that era, as well as the meeting minutes from the Chamber of Commerce from that era.
What you see in both is almost immediate recognition after the event happened of shame and embarrassment and a desire to try and cover it up, believing, I think accurately, that it did not reflect well on Tulsa.
Man: This is Tulsa, one of the richest cities in the country and oil capital of the world.
Narrator: Tulsa's civic and business leaders succeeded in suppressing the truth of the carnage, and the city resumed business as usual.
The white community continued to prosper.
The Black community did not.
For decades, massacre survivors and their descendants sought compensation for their losses from city government and insurance companies, to no avail.
Freeman: I think of all the Red Summer events, Tulsa was probably the one that disappeared from American memory.
Many African-Americans correctly sensed that it was a damn dangerous thing to talk about this, you know, in the years and even the decades after the events in Tulsa.
After all, they had witnessed the most horrendous, murderous, sadistic kind of attack on their community.
And I think many of them had a visceral feeling that if this was brought up, it would provoke violence and repression against them.
Narrator: has her own personal experience of how Blacks have been victimized and their voices silenced.
DeNeen: Racial violence can be physical, but it can also be emotional and be mental.
So you see Black people walking through the world with this kind of emotional pain inside of them because somewhere in their family's story, there was some kind of violence perpetrated against one of their family members.
For example, my grandmother, who is from Mississippi, in the Great Migration, she travels from Mississippi to Chicago, escaping the violence of Mississippi.
Many people did that in the Great Migration.
They left many towns in the South, going to cities in the North, escaping massacres, escaping lynchings, escaping threats of violence, right.
When I was growing up, I would go to my grandmother and say, 'Tell me about what it was like to grow up in Mississippi,' and she would just say to me, 'Oh, I don't want to talk about that.
I don't want to discuss it.'
It was so painful -- Whatever it was was so painful, she didn't want to talk about it.
I was helping her dress one day, you know, zipping up her dress, and I see that she has marks on her back like wounds, one here, one here, one here, another here, as though someone had whipped her back, and she wouldn't talk about it.
She would just say, 'I don't want to talk about that, honey.'
So it was a way of surviving.
It was a way of, like, pushing forward, despite the pain.
Floyd: ♪ A-A-Ama... ♪ ...zing grace ♪ How sweet Narrator: So effectively was the massacre deleted from public memory that the next generation of Tulsans was largely unaware of the crime.
DeNeen Brown's father, the Reverend Floyd Brown, didn't learn about the massacre until the mid-1990s.
DeNeen: Hi, Daddy. Floyd: Hello. God bless you.
DeNeen: Good to see you. Floyd: Glad to see you.
DeNeen: Thank you.
Floyd: It's amazing because, attending high school, we had to take Oklahoma history and... ...geography, but none of those things were ever mentioned in any of those classes.
I think the... ingrained... ...despair, if you will, caused people to not really discuss, you know, what actually took place during that riot and the hurt that was -- that they felt in the aftermath.
Narrator: Reverend Brown, like many Tulsans, learned the truth about the massacre in 2001, when an Oklahoma State commission released the first comprehensive official account of the so-called Tulsa Race Riot.
That report, issued seven decades after the massacre, provided an hour-by-hour and block-by-block account of events.
Johnson: That report talks specifically about facts surrounding the massacre.
So there are some unknowns.
The exact number of people who died.
We'll probably never know that.
But there are a lot more things that are known.
We know that the massacre occurred.
We know that an unruly white mob destroyed part of this city which was the Black community.
We know that no white person was ever held accountable for any offense relative to that.
We know that Black people have not received monetary reparations.
So there's so much more that we know as opposed to that that we do not know.
Narrator: The 2001 Riot Commission not only presented facts in unprecedented detail, it recommended the government of Oklahoma enact a number of restorative measures, emphasizing that... When the state of Oklahoma and the city of Tulsa ignored that recommendation, scores of massacre survivors and descendants, in 2003, sued the state, city, and government agencies for reparations.
Heath: The commission report paved the way for legal action to take place, so in 2003, they filed their lawsuit in federal court.
Narrator: At the heart of the reparations lawsuit was the Riot Commission's finding that Tulsa failed to take action to protect against the riot.
Some deputies, probably in conjunction with some uniformed police officers, were responsible for some of the burning of Greenwood.
That complicity amounted to state-sanctioned violence, according to Eric Stover.
Stover: The morning of June 1st, city police gave weapons and deputized many members of the white mob.
And at that point, for those of us who work in human rights, that's where it became state-sanctioned.
And that means the city, the state took on a responsibility, one, to stop the violence, which it didn't, and secondly, to carry out a thorough investigation after the massacre.
But none of that took place.
Narrator: Restorative justice is a rarity in the U.S.
To date, reparations have been made for only one episode of racial terrorism, the 1923 Rosewood, Florida, massacre.
In the 1994 bill, compensating survivors and descendants 70 years after that massacre, the Florida legislature acknowledged that government officials had opportunity to prevent the tragedy and failed to act.
For Black Tulsans, restorative justice remains a rarity.
In 2004, federal courts ruled against massacre survivors and descendants, concluding that plaintiffs' claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations and that there was no exception.
The decision was plainly difficult for the judges, who noted that, 'There is no comfort or satisfaction in this result and there should be none to defendants.
That plaintiffs' claims are barred by the statute of limitations is strictly a legal conclusion and does not speak to the tragedy of the riot or the terrible devastation it caused.'
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declined, without comment, to take the case.
Yet activists, historians, and researchers keep the tragedy in focus and are still uncovering new details.
In October 2019, the University of Tulsa Library exhibited its 1921 massacre holdings, among the most comprehensive in the country.
The photographs, postcards, newspapers, and survivor accounts amount to a repudiation of the silence that followed the massacre.
Marc Carlson curated the exhibit.
Carlson: This research is really some of the best way we have to try and figure out what was going on at the time.
The photographs are even more uniquely important because, okay, yes, you can fake up a photograph.
You can't fake up hundreds of them showing roughly the same things and the amount of devastation, and so it brings it in a little more personally that this is really what did happen.
It's not just something we can blow off because it just happened.
'It was a hundred years ago. Who cares?'
So keeping these records, keeping them alive, keeping them out there is of vital importance.
Man: Words talking about 'investigate this area.'
They went through, including all the markers that had names... Carlson: For me, it is an extremely emotional topic because one of the things that I find personally objectionable about history is people who have disappeared into history.
There's no record of them, and every one of those people... ...is a real person.
And we need to know who these people are and we need to understand their experience, not simply from what they endured, but the fact the ones who came back and rebuilt.
Goodwin: With the hundred years approaching, I think that there's been a renewed interest.
For some of us, the interest has never waned.
It's been a part of our growing up.
It's been a part of our lives.
And we got to share it and we got to make sure that it's told properly.
It's very difficult.
Again, when you're moving through that space and you're seeing pictures of people that were terrorized, they're dead, their charred bodies, it's very brutal but it's very real.
And I don't know how anybody can look at that.
Narrator: A number of the more graphic photographs were printed after the massacre as postcards.
Members of white supremacist organizations displayed them as trophies and mailed them to sympathizers around the country.
White supremacy flourished after the massacre.
In 1922, some 1,700 Ku Klux Klan members paraded through downtown Tulsa, cheered on by 15,000 spectators.
In 1923, a Tulsa Klan holding company erected a meeting hall, a fortress of racism.
It was painted white and towered over the ruins of Greenwood.
It was nicknamed 'Be No Hall' for its restrictive admissions policy... Despite the expansion of white supremacy and official neglect, the Black community of Greenwood was gradually rebuilt.
Johnson: The 1921 Tulsa race massacre decimated the community.
The community struggled to rebound but actually began rebuilding even as the embers still smoldered from the massacre, receiving funding from organizations like the NAACP headquarters in New York City, relatives of people who lived in the community, and so on and so forth.
The community actually reached its peak as a business community in the early to mid 1940s, when there were well over 200 documented Black-owned-and-operated enterprises in the community.
It's important to understand that the Greenwood community, Black Wall Street, was a community of necessity.
It would not have existed absent segregation.
The reason it existed was an economic detour.
Black people were prevented from engaging with the larger, dominant economy managed, run by white folks.
Narrator: The rebirth of Greenwood that began in the mid-1920s continued through the early 1950s.
These years of prosperity were in part the result of intense racial segregation.
The national integration movement of the 1950s ultimately contributed to Greenwood's second decline, according to attorney and historian Hannibal Johnson.
Johnson: During the segregated period, you can see dollars circulating and recirculating within the confines of this 35-square-block area.
When integration comes along, something that happened at the behest of the very citizens of the Greenwood community, residents of the Greenwood community are able to shop outside the community.
Because of economies of scale, they're able to purchase goods at a lower cost.
There's a greater variety of goods and services available for their use.
Black professionals, doctors, lawyers, et cetera, can ply their trades outside the community, reach a larger, more wealthy audience.
So again, it undermines the financial foundation of the Black community.
It's a supreme irony that integration, something Black folks longed for, has this sort of deleterious economic impact.
Narrator: According to Johnson, another challenge was posed by urban renewal and the new roadways and housing projects that undermined Greenwood and Black communities elsewhere.
Johnson: In addition to integration, urban renewal projects of the '60s and '70s really had deleterious impacts on communities of color.
I surmise that is because those communities tended to be largely politically powerless and voiceless and so could not resist the onslaught of urban renewal.
Narrator: Greenwood's continuing decline in the 1970s and '80s was accelerated by the construction of an interstate highway through the district's center.
The highway project erased hundreds of homes and businesses and created a physical barrier between North and South Tulsa.
Johnson: If you go into the Greenwood community today you see the damage inflicted by urban renewal because I-244, Interstate 244, bisects what was the heart of the business community.
Heath: Communities across the U.S.
are segregated deliberately by government choices that have separated communities along the lines of class and race.
The same goes for Tulsa and the dividing line of the Interstate 244 that has high populations of Black people to the north living in poverty.
And then south of the interstate, you have, you know, more affluent, higher medians of wealth, and higher populations of white people.
Narrator: The Greenwood community erected a memorial to the 1921 massacre victims in the mid-1990s.
It stands in the shadow of the highway overpass.
With roughly 20% of the city's population, North Tulsa is home to nearly half of the city's Black residents.
The median income here is half that of predominantly white communities.
Tulsa remains one of America's most segregated cities.
Today only a handful of businesses on Greenwood Avenue are Black-owned.
Residents of North Tulsa routinely contend with poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity.
The sidewalks of Greenwood Avenue are embedded with plaques commemorating the Black-owned businesses that once thrived here and were destroyed or failed.
Robinson II: It's quite simple.
Every time you go to a burger shop, every time you go to a coney shop and you look up at their banner and it says 'since something,' 'since 19-something,' African-Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma, should have those same banners above their hotels, above their barbershops, above their grocery stores, above their restaurants that say 'since the 19-teens,' and yet they don't because those were destroyed in 1921.
African-Americans show resilience and try to rebuild the community, and then it was destroyed again in Tulsa by urban removal, just like in a lot of other urban centers across this country.
Where would families be if they could look back on 100 years of financial success?
Where would they be?
And so that's a truth that we can't just ignore.
We keep asking Black people to come from nothingness and then we point to them and say, 'It must be something wrong with you,' when they can't.
Narrator: Residents of North Tulsa also contend with elevated levels of crime and disproportionately high levels of police violence.
In September 2016, a Black man named Terence Crutcher abandoned his SUV in the middle of a major street in North Tulsa.
Man: That looks like a bad dude, too.
Might be on something.
Man #2: Which way are they facing?
Man #3: Police 1, they're facing westbound.
Narrator: He was unarmed and alone.
Woman: Shots fired!
Man: Adam-321, we have shots fired.
We have one suspect down.
Narrator: Still a police officer shot him, and he later died.
[ Siren wailing ] Protests were legion in the aftermath of the Crutcher killing and again a year later when the officer who shot Terence Crutcher was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter.
Bynum: We have a long way to go as a city when one part of our city is synonymous with an entire race.
We have a long way to go as a city when people keep expecting lawlessness from African-Americans in response to an incident or a verdict.
I would remind Tulsans that our history shows us African-Americans in Tulsa have not been the instigators of lawlessness and riots.
They have been the victims of them, so I would ask that we not keep assuming the worst for a part of our community or from a part of our community that has been exposed to the worst in this city's history.
Crowd: Hands up! Don't shoot!
Narrator: Mounting allegations of racial injustice and aggressive policing led Human Rights Watch investigators to Tulsa in 2018.
Nicole Austin-Hillery sees Tulsa's history and its present linked by unresolved racial violence.
Crowd: Don't shoot! Hands up!
Austin-Hillery: Tulsa is a microcosm of what we see happening in other major cities across the United States, particularly those jurisdictions where there has been a history of racial injustice.
Tulsa is a place where there was government-sanctioned torture and terrorism.
That's the history of Tulsa going back to the 1921 massacre.
And Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma have never made amends for that, have never really come to the point where they've been able to say, 'This has been a cancer on our community, on our city, and on our state, and it has impacted the livelihoods of the African-American community.'
So that means that that history colors all of the systems, colors all of the interactions that African-Americans have with leaders, with government.
Narrator: Some community leaders do recognize troubled history.
Drew Diamond is the former chief of the Tulsa Police.
He is now an authority of racial bias in policing.
Diamond: Racism is a persistent problem in the Tulsa Police Department, and it was a problem when I joined the department in 1969, and sadly, it is still an issue today.
Young officers and even not-so-young officers, if you sit down with them, they'll describe their neighborhoods, Black neighborhoods, as war zones.
You know, they're in the warrior mode, the minute they drive into the neighborhood.
[ Siren wailing ] That's not policing.
When you hire and train people with the idea that they're warriors, they're going to look for the war.
[ Siren wailing ] Narrator: Human Rights Watch titled its Tulsa policing report 'Get on the Ground!'
Released in September 2019, it was presented as 'a case study of abusive, overly aggressive policing in the U.S.'
Based on extensive interviews and data analysis, the report found that, during police encounters, Black people were subjected to physical force at a rate nearly three times that of white suspects.
John Raphling authored the report.
Raphling: Policing throughout the United States, and by example in North Tulsa, comes across and is experienced as almost a military occupation.
There are neighborhoods where police are racing through constantly, and it's not about crime, so to speak.
It's about stopping people, pulling them over.
A group of young men are standing on a corner hanging out and they're all ordered up against the wall and searched and questioned.
It's experienced in the same way a military occupation might be, particularly when punctuated with high levels of violence.
Man: All he was doing was jaywalking.
We just want to talk with him.
Raphling: That breeds a fear and a lack of freedom.
Man: Let me see your hands.
Narrator: Aggressive policing transfixed the country yet again on May 25, 2020, when a Black man named George Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis.
George Floyd: I can't breathe!
Narrator: The killing was recorded on video by police body cams and by bystanders.
Crowd: I can't breathe! I can't breathe!
Narrator: Local protests in Minneapolis-Saint Paul against racial injustice spread to more than 2,000 towns in more than 60 countries.
[ Indistinct shouting ] [ Indistinct conversations ] Narrator: Protesting systemic racism was at the center of Tulsa's 2020 Juneteenth festivities.
The June 19th holiday celebrates the 1865 proclamations of slavery's end in Texas.
That date is now celebrated nationwide.
Turner: Good evening.
I'd like to welcome you all to what I refer to as the crime scene of Greenwood.
The very place where you are standing is sacred ground.
Narrator: Community activist Greg Robinson saw a direct connection from the Tulsa massacre of 1921 to recent police killings.
Robinson II: I had a choice.
Was I okay with chancing my freedom?
Was I okay with chancing my safety?
Was I okay with chancing justice?
Was I okay with being a willful participant in my own degradation?
I, too, am America.
We, too, are Oklahoma.
We, too, are Tulsa.
We, too, are Greenwood.
And I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired, and that's why I'm running for mayor.
We can do better!
[ Cheers and applause ] We didn't just take to the streets in the days and weeks after George Floyd's murder solely out of recognition of that injustice.
We took to the streets because the injustice that was done here in the city of Tulsa to Terence Crutcher and, frankly, to the victims of the race massacre still had not been paid for.
And we were coming together saying, 'If you think that George Floyd is the only person that has received injustice in this country, you're way out of touch.'
Right here in the city of Tulsa, we have not been doing justice by citizens.
We seek those who believe in justice, those who believe in equity.
Narrator: Increasingly, the demands of Black Tulsans for justice include reparations for the 1921 massacre and its enduring economic impact.
In summer 2020, Human Rights Watch took up the case for Tulsa massacre reparations.
Heath: Our investigation really had people and their experiences at the heart of what determines the outcomes and the recommendations of reparation because they determine what is necessary to restore them whole.
So you have survivors that have been denied justice in their lifetime and you have descendants who have also felt the effects of the massacre still not receiving justice.
Narrator: In early September 2020, survivors of the 1921 massacre and their descendants filed a new lawsuit in Oklahoma State Court against the city of Tulsa and other defendants.
This lawsuit seeks to remedy the ongoing nuisance caused by the 1921 massacre and to obtain benefits unjustly received by the defendants.
DeNeen: It wasn't just the white mob that went through Black Wall Street.
There were city police officers who stood aside as Black people were killed in cold blood.
So the government itself here is complicit in what happened there.
So the government pay reparations to now descendants of the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre because the government played a role in stepping aside and allowing Black people to be killed.
Solomon-Simmons: We are focused on making sure there is not only just financial compensation and accountability, but we would like to see the first-ever criminal investigation into the crimes that were committed against Greenwood and who committed those crimes.
We want to know the identities of those individuals who proudly stood in front of cameras, taking pictures with their guns, dead Black bodies behind them.
Taking pictures burning down homes because they knew they had the blessing and the protection of the police, of the sheriff, of the National Guard.
Narrator: While it will take years for the new reparations lawsuit to make its way through the legal system the intermittent effort to unearth physical evidence from the 1921 massacre resumed in October 2019.
A team of archeologists from the University of Oklahoma scanned a section of Oaklawn Cemetery with ground-penetrating radar.
This archeological work was first proposed by the late Dr. Clyde Snow, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist and adviser to the 2001 Tulsa Riot Commission.
Dr. Snow brought to the Tulsa massacre commission the same techniques and technologies that he used successfully in global war crime investigations, such as the investigation in Guatemala where, in the 1990s, he and his colleagues, including Eric Stover, unearthed remains of civilians killed by the military junta.
Snow: If there was an exit wound, I don't see it.
Man: No, I haven't even looked at this.
Stover: For nearly 30 years, Dr. Snow and I conducted human rights investigations and war crimes investigations, and one of the things we learned was that everybody counted and also that everyone is accountable.
And it was with that philosophy that he joined the commission as an investigator, and he was determined to try and find the mass graves from the massacre.
Snow: The objectives of our investigations are to put our findings in the historical record so that the revisionists can't come along in a generation or two and say, 'Oh, this never happened.'
It's hard, you know, for a revisionist to argue with a skull with a gunshot wound in the head.
Narrator: In Tulsa, forensic experts directed a preliminary radar scan of possible mass grave sites at Oaklawn Cemetery.
This detected anomalies consistent with mass graves.
Dr. Snow concluded his 2001 commission work by recommending archeological exploration at Oaklawn Cemetery.
Stover: The city ignored that recommendation, and nothing was done for nearly 20 years, and then when G.T. Bynum was elected to the city council, he reopened the forensic investigation.
Bynum: I worked with my colleague on the city council who represented North Tulsa, and so he and I went to the mayor at the time and said, 'We think it's really important that Tulsans know if there are really mass graves in our city or not.'
And the mayor said no.
And so after I got in the office, it was one of the initiatives that my team launched immediately.
Narrator: So in 2019, a new radar scan attempted to validate the evidence and testimony accumulated over generations.
The forensic experts confirmed and expanded on the commission's 20-year-old findings of potential mass graves at several locations.
Hammerstedt: Both with resistance and the radar, we did identify three unmarked graves in this area.
Here's an example of one of them where we see one of these low parabolas.
We caught that in four different passes.
So it looks pretty promising that it is an unmarked grave of some sort.
Whether or not it's associated with the massacre is not really clear at this point.
Stubblefield: These features do look very good to me.
I'm not an archeologist.
I'm a forensic anthropologist, but I work with archeologists all the time on burials.
They do look good, but we don't know what's underneath, so please bear with our further investigations, because we don't know what the preservation will be like, and even if the preservation is truly excellent, we don't know who we'll find in there.
Narrator: In July 2020, 99 years after the massacre, the archeology team finally began digging in Oaklawn Cemetery.
To team members, onlookers, and media, the excavation was a moment of truth.
DeNeen Brown was there to witness the excavation that her reporting had helped launch.
DeNeen: This morning at 10:00, the bulldozer broke ground at Oaklawn Cemetery.
This is 99 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre.
So there are a lot of descendants of massacre victims who are eagerly anticipating this very moment when the city finally searches, physically searches for their loved ones.
What were you feeling this morning when they first dug into the ground?
What was your emotion?
Alford: I'm happy about it.
Of course, you know, the sadness comes when you think of how our community members perished back then.
These were friends, neighbors, some employees of my family members who they never saw again.
Personally I feel for this situation because I have a great-grandmother who is also buried here.
And I'm another generation who endeavors to find her grave to give her the due respect that she so deserves at some point in time, you know.
Will that ever happen? I don't know.
But my heart is here because I know what that feels like.
To know that someone is buried somewhere and you don't know where they are and you can't give any answers towards that.
Narrator: Days of digging in the July heat yielded only artifacts and debris.
Warner: We had oral histories that matched up with written documentation that pointed that this very well could be the spot.
I had found, in the old records of the cemetery, there was one page that marked this particular area which pointed out it's the only area in the cemetery that wasn't accounted for.
So we go out there to dig this hole, and they figure it's gonna take the backhoe a day, day and a half.
And at that point, we'll hit bones, right.
Because the anomaly is looking good.
I mean, the scientists said, 'We have got a pit.'
So here we go, digging.
And it's just not going well at all.
Stubblefield: We're dealing with a substrate that is full of debris, kind of like backyard fill, only this isn't household.
It's more construction level -- nails, rusty nails, broken glass, lots of partial bricks.
Warner: And they're digging, and they're digging deeper.
And they're going 9 feet, 10 feet, 11 feet, 12 feet.
They finally got to 16 feet.
There's water dribbling through.
There's a tree trunk at 16 feet.
And I'm thinking this is a bit of the Holy Grail, and nobody is willing to give up their chance of finding the Holy Grail.
You don't know, are you ever gonna get another chance to dig again?
So do you just keep digging and hope that you find something?
And that was kind of the way it was.
Narrator: Following eight days of searching, on July 22, 2020, the excavation work was halted.
The mayor was no less committed to the effort.
Bynum: Some people push back on me since we started this and ask, you know, 'Why are we doing this?
Why are we spending the money on it?'
And I always try and present it from the human standpoint.
Your entire neighborhood's burned to the ground.
Your business is burned to the ground.
And there's members of your family missing.
And you are never told what happened.
No one's ever held accountable for doing it.
And you don't know where the members of your family went.
And there are people, descendants of those families, who are still here in our community that still don't know.
And if we can, through this investigation, give them some better idea of what happened and where the remains of their family members are, that's the goal for us in doing this investigation.
[ Indistinct shouting ] Narrator: Along with many American cities, Tulsa today is attempting to bridge the racial divide.
That process is, by turns, peaceful and tense, punctuated by protests and provocations.
In mid-October, a 250-foot Black Lives Matter mural on Greenwood Avenue was removed by the Department of Public Works at 4:00 in the morning.
By 8:00 a.m., the avenue had been repaved.
A week later, a rally and march against racism attracted scores of activists.
Frank: Last Monday, Tulsa, Oklahoma, became the first city to remove a Black Lives Matter mural.
So today we are having a 'good trouble' protest to protest the prolonged culture of white supremacy that continues to oppress people of color here.
Andrews: We talk about systemic racism, and there are people who still deny that it is a real thing.
It a real thing.
Systemic means it's part of a system, it's part of our ecosystem, it's part of everything that we do.
Removing that mural is absolutely a mirror on what is going on in Oklahoma, what is going on in Tulsa.
Billingsley II: It's not about that mural, just that mural.
It's about what that represents.
I'm somebody who loves this city, who dotes on this city, and who always talks about what it can be, but the reality is, the time for our city to get it right is up.
Crowd: Black lives matter!
Narrator: The Black Lives Matter protesters march downtown to City Hall, where a Blue Lives Matter march, in support of police, was also under way.
Man: We are sending a message to the city of Tulsa, to the city councillors, and to the mayor who erased Black Lives Matter from Black Wall Street.
That is why we are here.
We support our police officers.
We already showed that we [bleep] back the blue.
What we are against is white supremacy.
Narrator: The protest also attracted numerous armed militia members.
The opposing sides converged at City Hall.
Diamond: When you see self-proclaimed militia people in their fake military camo and those things show up, it's not about an intellectual discussion between the Second Amendment and the First Amendment.
This is about a bunch of guys who, at their core, see Black and brown and white people coming together to talk about justice, and they don't like it.
Hall-Harper: I started getting calls and text messages from some of my constituents, basically saying that there were militia men downtown, surrounding them with AK-47s, automatic weapons, in military gear.
And so at that point, I made a beeline and headed straight down to this location to see what was going on.
The militia represented the exact same mob that was represented in 1921 when the massacre took place.
And we saw that play out once again in 2020 as we approach the centennial of the massacre.
It's every type of racism that you could think of -- systemic, institutional, blatant, in your face.
It is typical of Tulsa.
It is what I call the spirit of Tulsa.
Bynum: The folks that showed up with those firearms at the protest were not requested to be there by anyone.
I've heard that they said that they were there to support the police department.
Our police department doesn't need their help.
It's unfortunate that there is a group that is more interested in testing their Second Amendment rights than understanding the realities of the racial dynamics that we're trying to work through as a community right now.
DeNeen: Oftentimes Black people are called on-camera after something racist occurs to explain racism, to explain what happened, to explain the incident.
But I can't explain why white people hate Black people so much.
I cannot explain the motives of the militia that came to Tulsa to agonize the peaceful protestors.
I cannot explain the other white extremist groups that have antagonized Black Lives Matter protestors across the country.
I can only say that the hope of people who have good hearts is that this hatred that has erupted in the country will go back underground and not only go back under the ground, but just, like, evaporate.
Man: I need everybody to clear the street.
Narrator: Neither the police nor the militia could stop the protesters from painting a new BLM mural on the street just outside City Hall.
A number of protesters were arrested, and the mural was quickly erased.
But the event underscored the divide in Tulsa.
Man: I need everyone to clear the street now.
Robinson II: We're not trying to take anything from any other Tulsan.
We're trying to provide an opportunity for upward mobility for everyone in Tulsa.
No matter what their race is, what their sexual orientation is, what their income is, and definitely what their zip code is, everyone deserves a pathway to upward mobility.
And when you talk like that, then people can push past the black and the white of this and they can start thinking about the right and the wrong of inequity.
Man: ♪ Nobody told me ♪ The road would be easy ♪ I don't believe ♪ He brought me this far ♪ To leave me Crowd: Amen Man: Amen.
Narrator: With the centennial of the 1921 massacre approaching, Greenwood activists are expanding community campaigns with events such as the unveiling of an historic marker outside the AME Church.
Greg Robinson lost his mayoral bid, but he's redoubling his commitment to public education.
The Greenwood Leadership Academy was established in 2016 in the shell of a former grammar school.
Robinson helped found the academy to bridge the achievement gap separating African-Americans from their fellow students in the Tulsa Public School system.
That gap is a chasm.
For example, in 2018, only 13% of Black third graders were proficient in reading compared with 39% of white students.
Robinson II: When you look at poverty and then you look at school outcomes, there is almost a one-to-one ratio in terms of achievement.
And so we looked around, and we said, 'Hey, our city is not going to do anything about it if we don't.'
Narrator: The school is a tribute to Greenwood's history.
Every corridor and classroom is named for a landmark destroyed in 1921.
The school's emphasis on Greenwood and the massacre's history defies the official whitewashing of Oklahoma history.
Robinson II: We wanted to focus on the ingenuity and the creativity that built the Greenwood neighborhood, Black Wall Street in the first place.
That's why our creed is, 'Who am I?
I am excellence.'
We want them to embody the excellence that was Greenwood and carry that forward to be just like their ancestors of the past and do something incredible in the future.
That's all about saying, 'Hey, who do we have at the table?
Who's at the table and what...' Narrator: By way of shaping that future, Robinson is mentoring young men and women in North Tulsa.
Lacking opportunity, young people here often abandon the city in search of careers elsewhere.
Billingsley II: When I was growing up, any time you heard of somebody young and Black about to be successful, they would say, 'I'm graduating, and I'm leaving Tulsa.'
That's what would draw applause.
That's would draw applause from older people, from people I knew.
They're like, 'Leave. There's nothing here for you.'
What you said the other night when you were like, 'We got to do something that's worthy of the ancestors' suffering'... Narrator: Robinson's protégé Tyrance Billingsley II is developing a business plan.
He has two goals -- establishing a tech center in North Tulsa and keeping talented young adults in the town they're often forced to depart.
Billingsley II: Greg is actually the reason that I chose to stay in Tulsa after I graduated high school rather than leave it.
The Black Wall Street story and the history that I grew up in has always inspired me.
But there was a time when I thought it might -- I wasn't sure if anything was going to come of it.
But meeting Greg, being from North Tulsa, pouring into me the way he did, he was the one who kind of got me to thinking, 'Rather than leaving the first chance I get, why don't I stay here and end up building something, building something here?'
Narrator: Billingsley is the first to admit that his business plan is early stage.
He's working around the clock to connect with investors, venture capitalists, and technology companies to revive Greenwood and North Tulsa.
Man: Billingsley II: We don't just have a responsibility to build it back.
We have a responsibility to build it better.
I envision a community where young entrepreneurs, young Black people in general grow up knowing that it's -- being a successful entrepreneur is synonymous with Black.
Man: Billingsley II: We're trying to facilitate $1 billion worth of investment in starting up our Black tech ecosystem here.
So that doesn't mean being written a billion-dollar check.
That means getting different accelerators here, different companies to run programs here, getting different entities to come here and invest in maybe building housing, whether it be Google or the Facebooks or the Twitters.
Man: DeNeen: Oh, there are phenomenal people doing extraordinary work in the city of Tulsa.
We know that because of the history of oppression and racism and segregation and racist laws that have tried to keep Black people back, it only means that, you know, oftentimes Black people start behind the starting line.
And sometimes the race is already going.
But we often will catch up.
I mean, it's phenomenal.
Narrator: While some young Tulsans are focused on cutting-edge technology, Betsy Warner relies on old-school research methods, such as this paper chase in Tulsa's city archives.
She hopes that old topographic maps might reveal where the city sited mass graves following the massacre.
Warner: I've gone into records that they never went into 20 years ago.
This shows the river, The Canes, which is an area that they've -- that's been pointed out as a possibility of burials.
I'm trying to logically, in my head, figure out, 'Okay, who did they bury?
How did they bury them? Where did they bury?
Why did they bury them there?
And what were the laws at the time?'
Narrator: Following the hiatus in July, a second excavation was scheduled for October 2020 at a site where ground-penetrating radar had found anomalies.
There were just two headstones of known Black 1921 massacre victims already there, but forensic scientists hypothesized that more victims, identified by city records, might have been buried alongside them.
Warner: There are several things that we can look at to see if they're the right bones.
One is there's got to be this level of trauma.
The death records, the funeral home records pretty much state where their injuries were.
So we know if we find somebody who's about 5'7' that has a bullet in their left thigh, bingo.
We can probably figure out which one that is.
The nice thing is, even though they don't tell you how tall these guys are on the death certificates, many of them were World War I veterans.
And when they enlisted, they wrote down kind of how tall these guys were.
So we have an idea we can kind of match up.
We got to be able to match up bodies and whatever.
Bynum: This is not some, you know, history project for the city.
This is a murder investigation.
And we're trying to find neighbors of ours who got murdered and find out where their remains are so that their family can know.
Narrator: Like the July excavation, the second excavation in October 2020 began in less-than-ideal conditions.
DeNeen Brown came again to observe and report.
DeNeen: This is an expansion point for the search.
As you know, this is the second excavation.
They began the first excavation looking for mass graves not far from here near the crape myrtle trees.
That excavation took place in July.
They didn't find human remains there.
So the city decided to expand its search to this site here.
If you look there, there are two marked tombstones.
One is a tombstone for Eddie Lockard, and the other is for Reuben Everett.
They are two known Black men who were killed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
They believe that somewhere in the vicinity of those tombstones, there might be at least 18 Black bodies buried somewhere out here in unmarked graves.
The reason I get emotional about this search is we have a government that's actually physically searching for the bodies of the people who lost their lives.
Stover: Look, what you have to understand with forensic scientists who do this work, it's rough, because you are retelling the last chapter of somebody's life.
Even when you're in the ground and if there's clothes on, you can reach into the pockets and you can find things, and that tells you something about that person.
[ Camera shutter clicking ] So that you're all of a sudden re-creating that person.
So you get very attached.
But you also have to be professional about it.
So Clyde Snow used to like to say, 'You work in the daytime, you cry at night.'
Narrator: There are no celebrations in a search for human remains.
But there are sometimes breakthroughs.
On the second day of excavation, archeologists discovered a single coffin containing human remains.
On the third day, an additional 11 coffins were found.
Stackelbeck: We have now identified at least 12 coffins.
That gave us information with regard to the condition of the remains and the extent to which they were very friable or if they were really in a good state of preservation.
Narrator: Materials recovered from the graves were concealed behind a makeshift screen.
The question is, whose are they?
Chief archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck is evaluating several scenarios.
Stackelbeck: One of those is a mass grave of individuals where there was mass killings.
And we have numerous examples of that, both more recently and in the past, and what that looks like, unfortunately.
But we can also see mass graves in association with epidemics, and this has happened periodically throughout our history and most recently right now.
Mass graves are being excavated at this point in time in other parts of the world where we have many people who are dying as a result of COVID-19.
In fact, one of the last major influenza epidemics that we had was very close in time to the 1921 Race Massacre.
So that's where the forensic anthropologists are really going to be critical, from the standpoint of their ability to ascertain the extent to which we can see indicators of trauma for these individuals.
Narrator: Finding evidence of violence or trauma is a task that lies ahead.
On their final day of work, the archeologists covered the graves with protective materials, then refilled the pit with dirt.
A court order will be required before the remains can be exhumed.
Work is expected to resume on the Oaklawn gravesite in summer 2021.
Other possible mass gravesites around Tulsa may be excavated in the future.
Williams: When the mass grave was discovered, it was a hallelujah moment for myself and this community.
And now we're like, 'Okay, we can begin this road to justice now.
And no longer is this folklore or rumors.
Now we have something.
Let's get started.'
The ancestors have been crying out for such a long time.
I mean, you have to be deaf, blind, and crazy not to hear them.
Bynum: You know, I would say there are two big things for me that I hope people can learn from this.
One is that when you move beyond sort of the simplistic explanation of what happened and you look at the real history of what happened on that night in Tulsa, it is terrifying because you realize that it could happen today.
It is an instance of hatred overpowering the rule of law in a community.
The other that's more positive is I hope that people see that it's never too late to try and do the right thing.
The investigation that we're doing right now, we shouldn't be doing it.
The city should have done this 98 years ago, but we can't go back in time and make the city do what it should've done in 1921 or 1922.
We can only do today what's in our power.
And we as a community are trying to do right by our neighbors in 2020 and '21.
Stover: I think for the city of Tulsa to have done this is remarkable.
They need to be cautious, don't raise any hopes.
But I think it is something that others throughout the United States, because we know there are other unmarked graves of victims of racial violence, that they should learn from this and replicate what's being done here.
Narrator: When the archeologists and cemetery workers left the Oaklawn Cemetery, community activists held a vigil.
Prayers for the dead were mingled with plans for the future.
Webber-Neal: Scripture says that light will always shine over darkness.
We will continue for as long as it takes to make sure that our ancestors are honored, to make sure that the truth is found, and to make sure that we stand as a community strong and better because we fought for what was right.
Narrator: The Oaklawn mass gravesite remains filled in while the legal and scientific reviews take place.
The remains discovered in October 2020 may never be identified, but the effort has given many Tulsans hope that 2021, the massacre's centennial year, will mark an end to the silence and denial and the start of positive change.
At the AME Church in Greenwood, rebuilt after the events of 1921 and a potent symbol of hope, Majeste Pearson recently rehearsed 'Lift Every Voice and Sing.'
The NAACP, in the early 1900s, designated the song 'The Negro National Anthem.'
Majeste plans to perform the anthem on the centennial of the massacre, May 31, 2021.
Pearson: [ Vocalizing ] ♪ Lift every voice and sing ♪ Till earth and heaven ring ♪ Ring with the harmonies ♪ Of liberty DeNeen: I guess a great a hope is that this will never happen again if you tell the story.
But people have to be reminded that it did happen.
And there has to be justice for the descendants of those who survived and the descendants of those who were killed in the massacre.
What that justice looks like, that's something that they'll have to define, but until they obtain justice for this massacre, there can't be healing.
Goodwin: I can't help but hold on to hope, because other than that, you've killed me, and I can tell you this, the very folks that go out and kill other folks, right -- I say this all the time.
Dead people kill people.
Dead people are out here on the streets with the AK-47s.
They have no spirit of humanity.
They have no spirit of God. So they're already dead.
That's why they have no problem killing you.
So I'mma continue to live.
I'mma continue to say, as long as I got breath, right, we got time to get it right.
So as long as I got life, we got time to get it right, and we hold on to that.
Other than that, we'd go crazy.
Austin-Hillery: History gives us moments to reflect.
History gives us moments to look back and to examine where we've come, how far we've come from that moment.
It gives us an opportunity to ask, what have we achieved since then, and to also come to grips with the fact that perhaps we haven't come far enough.
Pearson: ♪ Let our rejoicing rise ♪ ♪ High as the listening ♪ Listening skies ♪ Let it resound loud as the rolling seas ♪ Johnson: There's no question that on the centennial, May 31st, June 1, 2021, the eyes of the world will be on Tulsa.
The operative question will be, how has Tulsa changed over the course of this 100 years?
My perspective is that the Centennial Commission wants the world to know that Tulsa has acknowledged its history and is working on the slow and arduous process of healing that history.
We're not there yet.
We're working on it.
Pearson: ♪ Sing a song ♪ Full of the hope that the dark past has taught us ♪ ♪ Sing a song ♪ Full of the hope that the present has brought us ♪ ♪ Facing the rising sun ♪ Of our new day begun ♪ Let us march on ♪ Till victory ♪ Let us march on ♪ Till victory ♪ Let us march on ♪ Till victory ♪ Is won ♪ Till it's won ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪