Descendants of Tulsa Race Massacre survivors share how they discovered their direct tie to the devastating event

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TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – The Tulsa Race Massacre took place between May 31 and June 1, 1921.

It all started due to a rumored encounter in the Drexel Building elevator in downtown Tulsa between teenagers Dick Rowland, an African-American shoeshiner, and Sara Page, a white elevator operator.

Page claimed that she was assaulted, though she later recanted. A newspaper embellished the story of the alleged crime.

There was talk that Rowland would be lynched, so armed African-American men came to the jail to protect him. A larger group of armed white men met them there. Then, gunfire rang out.

A white mob then set Greenwood on fire. All 35 city blocks of the community burned, including more than 1,200 homes, 600 businesses and a number of churches on Black Wall Street.

It has been estimated that between 100 to 300 people were killed, with many others wounded.

Although it may be 100 years later, many of us are just now beginning to learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre, and for others, they’re just now learning about their direct tie to the devastating event.

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Kavin Ross

Growing up, Kavin Ross and Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield did not know much about the massacre. No one did, really. After the 1921 event, many people kept quiet about the atrocities they saw and experienced.

But through a twist of fate, many decades later, the two would enter each other’s lives for none other than the massacre.

Today, Ross is the chairman of the Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee.

His pride and joys are the E. W. Woods Memorial, which he had a part in, as well as Dr. John Hope Franklin Boulevard, also courtesy of Ross.

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Kavin Ross at the E.W. Woods Memorial.

Throughout his adult life, learning about and educating others on the Tulsa Race Massacre has been a top priority, but it wasn’t until recently that he discovered his direct tie.

“I only found out about being a descendant, and friends of the family just recently made me… About the last five years,” said Ross. “My great-grandfather, Isaac Evitt, had a Zulu lounge.”

The Zulu lounge used to sit where the I-244 Freeway crosses Greenwood in Tulsa. It was lost in the massacre in 1921.

“He was not able to rebuild,” said Ross. “It was a lot of problems in the aftermath of the riot because the city did not want the black folk to rebuild on these grounds.”

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Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield

In the 1990s, Dr. Stubblefield was invited to be a scientific consultant on the Tulsa Race Riot Commission Report. She was not from Tulsa, but had relatives that lived there. She never could have known the experience would change her life and open her eyes to her ancestry.

“I mentioned it to my parents and said, ‘hey, doing this,’ and they said, ‘Yeah. Yeah, your Aunt Anna lost her house.’ And my question was, ‘who’s Aunt Anna?'” said Dr. Stubblefield.

Aunt Anna, being the wife of Ellis Walker Woods, or E. W. Woods.

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E.W. Woods Memorial

“So basically, yeah, it was a surprise, but it was a surprise that lead to more research… and [I’m a] scientist, so I’d normally go that route anyway,” said Stubblefield.

The years passed and their work continued, eventually making their way to Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery in 2020, where a mass burial site is believed to be.

On June 1 the crew will finish what they started.

“I’ve seen cranial elements from someone that is most likely male in association with some of the plain casket area,” said Dr. Stubblefield. “And that was just a little bit of evidence, because we didn’t exhume the individual, we just, we were on our way towards excavating the whole trench. So it’s looking highly likely.”

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