Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
(NEW YORK) —Protesters gathered outside an Oklahoma cemetery on Friday to decry the reburial of remains exhumed earlier this summer that could be linked to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The remains of 19 people exhumed from Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa were reinterred Friday in the same place they were found. The remains were exhumed as a part of a city effort to find unmarked burials from the violent event — which happened 100 years ago — when a white mob stormed the Greenwood District of Tulsa, a predominantly Black area dubbed “Black Wall Street” on May 31, 1921. The mob destroyed and burned 35 city blocks of the thriving Black neighborhood to the ground.
Oklahoma originally recorded 36 deaths in the brazen attack, but a 2001 commission reported the number was as high as 300.
However, dozens of protesters had gathered to denounce the Friday reburial without a proper funeral ceremony. The burial process was closed to the public.
“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,” Bobby Eaten, a descendant of a massacre victim, said to ABC Tulsa affiliate KTUL.
The city of Tulsa told ABC News that the reburial went on as planned based on a proposal presented to a public oversight committee that was approved in March, “as on-site forensic analysis, documentation and DNA sampling were complete.”
Further, the city had to abide by permit requirements filed with the state’s Department of Health and the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, which required the remains be temporarily interred at Oaklawn Cemetery. An internment plan was required before moving forward with the excavation.
City spokeswoman Michelle Brooks told ABC News that the city remains “committed to transparency during this investigation” and research experts will report their findings from the excavation this fall as well as recommendations for next steps.
All public oversight committee members, the physical investigation team and North Tulsa clergy involved with the exhumation were invited to the reburial, Brooks said.
Brooks said analysis will be done on the remains to determine if they are massacre victims.
“If they are, then we will want to try to match DNA with descendants and let descendants decide where they want them to be buried. If they can’t be identified, we would work to establish a permanent memorial,” Brooks said.
While on-site forensic analysis and DNA sampling from the remains are complete, she noted DNA matching with potential descendants could take years.
There are two more sites the city is looking at for possible massacre victim remains, KTUL reported.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.