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Mass Graves?

One of the most emotional subjects related to the Tulsa Race War concerns the enduring suspicion that scores, perhaps hundreds, of African-American corpses were secretly disposed of and never accounted for by whites following the conflagration, in order to lessen the infamy of Greenwood’s destruction. Such an enterprise would suggest a heightened disregard for black human life and an elaborate and organized collaboration to pull off such a scheme and keep it quiet—possibly related to an elaborately planned overarching conspiracy to destroy or greatly diminish Greenwood. It would also validate the much higher than official death count that many people suspected, and perhaps enhance the likelihood of financial “reparations,” or money payments to survivors of the disaster and/or their descendants, for which several black politicians and activists were advocating.

One of the latter, a member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, championed a reparations package that would have cost 21st-century Oklahoma taxpayers nearly 34 million dollars—over a third of it going to the African American college where that commission member taught. No mention was made of reparations to descendants of Indians who had suffered through the Trails of Tears and other sorrows, non-Tulsa black victims of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation, white Mennonite Christians and Socialists persecuted during World War I, any other Oklahomans mistreated by civil authorities and/or the public, nor other Indians ravaged and displaced by warrior tribes such as the Comanches.

Numerous particular theories survived through generations of black “oral history,” being passed down by word of mouth from grandparents and parents to children. One of the prime objects of the commission was to authenticate this oral tradition and reveal once and for all the existence of mass graves, as well as other unreported burials—or non-burials—including those of dead bodies pitched into the Arkansas River bordering west Tulsa.