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Tulsa coffins reflect excavation of ‘uncomfortable truths’

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Gillian Smith

A forensic team in Tulsa, Oklahoma has unearthed 11 coffins while searching for victims of the 1921 massacre in which hundreds of Black residents were killed.


Professor Rooks is an associate professor in Africana Studies and Feminist, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Noliwe Rooks

Professor in Africana Studies and Feminist, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Noliwe Rooks, professor of American studies at Cornell University, and is an expert on the role of segregation in American society, particularly in education and the economy. She says the discovery represents our past and present but does not have to represent our future.

Rooks says:

“The truth never remains completely buried. The same can be said of history. Today, many of our nation’s most uncomfortable truths are being excavated as the digging continues in Tulsa. Inevitably, those bodies uncovered there will lead to questions about who, how, when or if we in the present should dig up the United States’ past histories of exclusion, racial violence and dispossession.

“Narratives of belonging and greatness are more pleasant for us all, but just as our national myths are well known and embraced, we must embrace our tragedies as well. The bodies uncovered in Tulsa are our past and present but don’t have to represent our collective national future. We should listen to what they have to tell us.”

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