Tulsa's Buried Truth: Search for the missing victims of a massacre

A white mob destroyed a prosperous Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as Black Wall Street 100 years ago.
28:10 | 05/19/21

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Transcript for Tulsa's Buried Truth: Search for the missing victims of a massacre
Everything. This spring then those. Enacted eat them. And that's care. When you see pictures it's just utter devastation. What happened in Tulsa next morning one was incredible violence and destruction and devastation. Some 100 for our people were killed most of the black. It got. And we don't even man they kept them silence. To live. This music. Community. Where the American dream for African Americans work. In 1921 there's no question that the masters still has a dark cloud hovering over this. Grand jury. I error. Manson and basically all consider what happened to me negro Verizon says to me. He's like those guys pretty. Ellen they deserve. This. No accountability. Right. No one and was ever brought to justice races and princess and Hispanics where. And it was clever a hundred years ago has cleverness. King me me me. And this is oak lawn cemetery. Parents also where it was long believed that. There were eighteen black man from the Tulsa riot. We were killed were buried here but no one could ever find their bodies. The people who are buried here one day walked out of their. Disappeared. And we're never seen again. Nearly a hundred years ago to the day it was America's racism on full display. A mob of white neighbors here are on the black side of town shooting proud black families dad. The Greenwood neighborhood it was under attack. Air. It is. Or rather. This oh sorry we track. That's. And somehow over the many years both the white mob and their black victims is seen here with the guns at their backs kept the mask. It. It. My name is ill Jolie in the kind of machine. In this jail. He. I am the granddaughter. A failed to arsenic content she. Who's more famous SP peace of mind at the console race. Do you remember when she told you were told to and other other members your family well absolutely actually I was working in Los Angeles. And I wasn't at my desk and the phone rings in the front danced in the same room joy do you know an ill Dorismond kind of Sheen. I'm like well. What about it what you know about the Maghreb Europe and back in May admit that I and I went out to the fringes and their issues on the front pain. Of the Los Angeles. The camps in the cities they change. From here in this program. That was the first you heard about this is new of the complete story hasn't. The Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa Oklahoma was the pride and joy. America's former slaves in 1921. The shops and businesses did so well they called it black Wall Street. But often it's really a mess now. I think a better monitor would be black main street. This will really was here is a conglomerate to all manner of businesses barber shops and beauty salons movie theaters doctors lawyers and test. And despite the naked racism the times it wasn't so when used for black family here to live better than a white. It was an extremely vibrant community. Citizens can get anything they've won it you know flight user. This was really pointless. But there was resentment. Of living on the other side of the railroad tracks that divided the city. In the white neighborhoods they like to call Greenwood. Little Africa. The evening of may thirtieth was the beginning of the white clash. That's when did role in a nineteen year old black shoe shiner needed to use the so called colored restrooms downtown. It was on the top floor of the Drexel building. And young white woman named Sarah page was in charge of the elevator. We biggest didn't walked on the elevator he tripped. You automatically through his hands out to break his fall that he might put his hand on server pages dressed that it tore them. She screamed and he ran have the element. But white store clerk who heard her scream and told police that did role in the attack turning. They arrested him the next changed the Tribune published an article the next day entitled manner negro for attacking a girl and an elevator. Any piece really had its desired impact Connecticut riled. White man in south. Also poured across town was that they were going to lynch this man. At the courthouse the white men with guns and were soon meant by much smaller group of black men with guns. And then someone's gun went off. Today Hollywood. Is telling the forgotten story of the violence that took place over those next. You days in the HBO series look craft country. And in scenes from the series watch that are difficult to see. It was rare to find a survivor who would talk about the violence. But if you found the courage to record their stories in the 1990s. School he says he's known very sent out. Programs. We shall. And see black. Net out. Crab. A little bit me. The wide elevator operator she never pressed charges yeah. Black shoe shiner the sheriff released him from jail Dick Roland who left this place and never came back. The law. They never held any one responsible. For killing as many as 300. A Black America. These painful images of burned black bodies turned into a post cards and shared by white families. This morning to celebrate explode and running the need cro cop told us. Thirty blocks. And black excellence and burn to the line. In just sixteen hours. People could see the smoke from behind us and in this reporting a white woman who was a teenager at the time. Describes the heartbreak. Well that night just where they've earned that night that we get from the burning and he goes pocket change can be found burning. What's even more difficult to understand is why the black Americans who were victimized and all of us who stayed in rebuilt. Somehow made the decision to keep quiet about what happened. You're still want to talk about people who want to talk about. Singer Charlie Wilson is one of Tulsa is most famous sons. And today he's talking about. He's the lead singer of the cafe who sold millions of records and name themselves after Greenwood. The initials G-8. Woodside particular amendment because we know who's going all over the world he's I think. Who's going auto quote and it would have to you have to talk about it. When the band was touring in the 1980s he says they tried to share the story of the massacre while they were promoting their albums. People's government looking at a select. Are you shoe. I've never heard this story before so may it even that would total story. A lot of times the battery to respond to it because it is never heard of the story. Because it was forbidden to talk about. In the music world they call him uncle Charlie he remains a great vocalist and for years people suspected that one of the most famous songs he's ever written. It was about the bombing of black Wall Street. The song you dropped a bomb on me was one of the gap band's most successful singles. But he says the rumors. Aren't true. They have nothing to do what I mean but a lot of people. Just wanted us to say that record was written for the 1921 race where us. The only bombs they were singing about where ones filled with love. Even so he says it doesn't bother him at all when people get this wrong. Is bringing attention back to the race right. I'm so happy about that. He says it's most personal connection to the massacre or something he's never talked about until now. There's a woman from his childhood who survived the killings. And treated him like he was her all. She was just twelve years old and mom came to caring through green 100 was Lucille. Figures. So. Monotone gore the back to one run and don't stop it don't look back at nothing and so don't overlook Abaxis in the case and ran off. And and in bonuses is in the house they own ran. This figures was a 104 years old when she died in 2013. And this is the first time mr. Wilson is telling her story. She told me and. Everything she said thinks rather interviewed her she zip they kept coming to me it's gonna get me to do interviews. But you noted she wants people back. And didn't shots receipt. She was never speak about it she told me a lot of things and don't. But she made me promise. Don't ever speak about what are chosen. And so I'm girl problem. Being. It's kind of hard to imagine that this all used to be. A community where black Americans had. Businesses and shops. A hundred years ago I mean. It's wild. My time Cheney at words listen mentioned lane theater when the massacre happened and she barely escaped. She was so scared to comebacks of Tulsa for little thing. Through their pain and suffering the black families here bill new homes from these ashes. And when you look at Greenwood today it's hard to find the scars. That are now 100 years old. People forget. That it would there was a loss of life. When it was injury thing and there was also an economy that was destroyed him but there was also generational wealth and that was stopped right. And not even the money because the word reparation is taboo. And so I don't wanna say that weird because that that hosts a whole different. Taboo thing what is the core. What we're talking about a generational well. Black folks at the time to wind through this and did not it's past down the story dated a generation yes they didn't talk about it. They can't bet silence. To live the people who survived this massacre him. Had to live with the very people. Who burned down their homes. Who executed. This isn't there an excellent. For very different reasons many of the white people in Tulsa world also help keep the massacre buried in the fog of aging memory and the newspaper. Owned by white families the government was run by white Americans and nearly all of the history books failed in their duty. To document and track. Historians reported some of the old newspapers and city archives. At missing pieces. Saying that they look like they were cut out on purpose. There was an editorial that was title to lynch negro tonight. And windows volume of Tulsa Tribune. Michael filmed in the 1930s. By the WPA. And someone had already cut out the three front garden and then torn out and work. We know what the front page story says but to this day we don't we don't have coffee and ideas. They believe that one of the missing articles shows how the white newspaper writers at the time when telling the story of Greenwood and showing their racism. There was great hostility even after the devastation of the community from sources like. One of the local newspapers the Tulsa. Tribune published an editorial three days after the massacre it. Must not be again as an horrific. Vile language. Against the black community and that editorial written and they said in the editorial exactly. What they've manned. Such a district as he owned the town must never be allowed in Tulsa again it was a cesspool. Of an equity and corruption. I like to give voice to the exact language from the editorial. Because that reflects. Thinking. A good number of the white leadership of the community at the time. Outside of Oklahoma the national headlines weren't any more accurate. In the New York Times 85 whites and negroes die in Tulsa riots as 3000 armed men battle in the streets. Not at all clear picture of death and destruction. Ways entirely deliberate. As we in pine Hurst archival. Information. The recurring theme EC is shame and embarrassment. GT Bynum is the mayor of Tulsa today he says he had no clue rolling that the massacre. Ever happened. I grew up here in Tulsa my family's been here since 1870s. How my dad's side. And I first heard about race massacre in 2001 or two somebody mention. There at banning race right where people dropped bombs from airplanes on T Tulsa and I heard that. That's ridiculous. If something that crazy happening also hurt. And then I went home and she went to my two main sources of authority on the history pulse on my grandfather's. Mask and a and it's yeah. Much like the mayor Matt King is a white man from Tulsa who learned late in life about the massacre. Today he's an architect with an office on Greenwood avenue right in the heart of black Wall Street. He works out of one of the historic buildings and it looks like it's survived the bombs and the fires of 1921. You're from here. And you said that this work its call click or break the correct it and I don't know if this is historic. Course building was built in 1923 and shortly after the Richmond. And I don't know at this rate was captured from that we're not if you look at the burn marks on here it's almost like it's Alba bloc. And people tend to believe that that was a by product of the racial lines. Experts at story just make every good story and it may be true I just don't know it's. He's sixty years old. And didn't first hear about the race massacre until twenty years ago. Then just done it rolling off. It was a story that was never never but it has not talked. I had no idea why is that it. Well I don't know I want to Booker T. Washington high school which was an anomaly black knights. In a raid in the early seventies. And it was not even taught. At the a school. Attic for anomaly black historically black eyes. So I can't explain why didn't make it into the history books. I suspected had a lot to do was race. The state try and 2019. And make sure that the history black Wall Street. And the massacre 1921. We're included in school curriculums. But recently Oklahoma's governor signed a law that prevents educators from teaching history that could make any student feel guilty about their race. We can and should teach this history without labeling a young child as and a prosper. Bora quarry here she feel guilt or shame based on the race or sex. None of this makes it any easier to tell the story about the massacre. And when it comes to how least kind of tragedies are remembered. Pulses mayor says the government's response makes a difference. You know a lot of the time thing Wayne you have. Disaster which is why this you have two options. And we faced this in dealing when natural disasters epidemics. The government can issues. To either restrict information trying to control what people here in the hopes of calming everyone. And moving. War that government can provide. All of the information be open and transparent about it and trust that citizens. Can work through these she's on her clearly tells in 1921 to the former choice plan should have gotten there. Government started being more open and transparent. About what happened in Tulsa. Nearly 75 years later. After 1990 fond. This was the year of another mass murder in Oklahoma. On most often a dance in America. People were already inside at work here when the blast ripped the nine story federal office building up Barton. Shattering floors and the offices inside and I. Comic. When it terrorists bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City there were many people here who thought it was the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the State's history. But at the state house a black lawmaker named Don Ross respectfully beg to differ. Pointing out that this wasn't the first time Oklahoma was bought. On Ross then to those stories connected to governor in the state legislature. And got him decree to ride. Right commission was seen probably be by the legislature. Let them do journal report that line the state commission had a number of goals but the biggest was to find the truth. About what happened to black Wall Street for the first time a real investigation. Started in 1997. And this meant getting to the bottom of a persistent rumor the stories of mass graves somewhere underneath Tulsa. Brenda Alfred has lived here her whole life and it's heard the whispers of those rumors since she was a child. I am the granddaughter of black Austrian entrepreneurs and Patrice massacre survivors James and passed Noory nail senior. He along with my great uncle he reveals for the proud owners of Daniel's position shop in record shop. That was located at 121 north Greenwood avenue. She says she remembers her grandparents and their friends talking about people who disappear. And were never found. Family members would come town visits. Usually we passed by oak lawn cemetery and the comet would always meaning. You know the extra we'll hear. And everyone in the car would agree it is a little kid I didn't know any questions aspect I always kind of wonder what's nobody here. This offered is now part of a group that's pushing the city and state to find the remains of victims. People who she beliefs were buried with no death certificate or any official records. Unfortunately I can't appease our story together people art games. But it has been quite the journey and I'm so grateful to be on it do is to continue its journey one that I'll probably be on the rest of my life but it is. Will work takes. They are buying them is now promising to help write the old wrongs. But he stopping short saying that the city needs to pay these families for their losses. And there's a serious argument over the issue. About twenty years ago the state commission that investigated the master said that reparations were quote though right thing to do. Even calling it a quote moral argument then but mr. Bynum isn't so sure. I do not. Citizens who in Tulsa yeah. Should be monitor punished through their taxes for something people hundred years. The mayor says he's helping the spam lease another way. By leading the search for the missing victims. In October 20 point the city's schools. Uncovered true. They found at least a dozen missing bodies in this one corner of the city cemetery. And are still searching for more this up murder mystery ship one of the most basic. Any sitting out offer students that if you're murdered we will do everything we can't try and find out what happened to you where planes are and who. For the city of Tulsa the heartbreaking discovery was finally proof that all those rumors were more than just talk. I'm thankful for the citizens of Tulsa. Do have reversed. Nearly a century. He conventional wisdom of this being something that we don't wanna talk about and we just want to put behind us and pretend like never happen. This generation of Olson's is not do. Both families. Who have gone for 99 years with no idea where their family members work. We are a step closer today. To having the ability to tell them out. And standing right beside the mayor was missed Brenda Alford who led them in prayer every day of the search. And help make this moment happen. I. As absent me speechless. And I didn't have very often picked it. It seemed that he tedious work and is content. And to finally. Be able to see progress. It just moves toward bringing some sense of justice and peace to our community. Oh. Finding the bodies is at best bittersweet. For these families because they were tonight funerals. In the city didn't do much about the property losses here either. By some estimates he was more than 200 million dollars in today's money. And the insurers and never paid these families a single penny. Not only lose all of the great black economic analysts that was tank here and it's time you know. In penis and there is no home. And soon Darius Miller in business. For that sacred land. There's a strong feeling here with the generational wealth that was lost needs to be replace. And that it's not enough. To tell the stories of the survivors and their families. With the new history center that's going up. Paul Greenwood rising. Anything is a hundred years is big money. As kids. But none of this money into fits me. And about. I mean the bottom what is it then then the battle. Library grant here. They they did in mine and my grandmother lives in the Smithsonian us. Let her story she didn't. I didn't didn't. So a hundred years. I don't want a big game. Who do you think should pay for reparations in this instance who's who start with the city's history. I start with two live in some maps that we know Brett you know. I was and reported. What do you say to those people whom. Will say well you know I shouldn't have to pay for my father's. This lessons. This this was this was back then people of today why should they have to answer born yesterday is it fair. Because so when the equal opportunity. Today. That should have been reported. Grant us. And. The surviving families say it's not just about money they could use a program that helps black businesses afford to stay in the neighborhood. Or even vocational training for the young people. So they. Can help build the new history set you. Don't like the were reparations. No sooner you prefer the word love comfort level Hamilton Bob. We're standing right where the entry doors will be disobedient this live in through the majority of the mr. Skinner is dedicated to. The telling the story of the in the exhibit. Phil Armstrong is Greenwood license project director. The first exhibit to get inside Greenwood rising you'll walk across railroad track. He says he hopes that when this opens it might help make the case. For somehow replacing the well. That racism still. We're talking about. What can only be described as an trust. Ian researching the history. One thing that I heard over and over again as a term historic. Racial trauma. Trauma. This did not just happen to black. It happened to all of Tulsa. Until you tell the truth. Into your honest with your pants. You can't go forward. What is it. Do you want me for. Should not forget to tell America Condace. That this is not just ancient history. You know something so far and across generations that you can't feeling touched me. It's difficult. To have to haven't lived. It's hard now.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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