In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a group of scientists and historians is on the verge of unearthing a chunk of the city's past that long has been buried, and one that some people may prefer to keep that way: the worst incident of interracial violence in American history.
Beginning May 31, 1921, thousands of armed white Tulsans invaded the Black section of the booming oil town, terrorizing its residents, looting their homes and businesses, and burning to the ground some 35 square blocks of the city. Before the rampage was over, more than 10,000 Black people were left homeless and more than 6,000 were interned in camps where they'd stay, in some cases, for months.
"To this day, we don't know how many died," explains Scott Ellsworth, a native Tulsan and a professor of African American history at the University of Michigan. Ellsworth is the author of the 1982 book "Death in a Promised Land," one of the first books to take a comprehensive, historical look at the Tulsa Race Massacre — previously called the Tulsa Race Riot — of 1921. We spoke to him in June 2020. "Reasonable estimates range from, I would say 40, to as high as 300."
In October 2020, scientists found a mass grave with about 11 coffins during four days of digging at the city-owned Oakland Cemetary. A full excavation is expected to begin on June 1, around the 100th anniversary of the massacre.