Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Historians search for race riot truth
It is thought to have been America's worst incident of racial violence
By the BBC's Jane Hughes in Tulsa
Under an intense blue sky stretching over the Midwestern American prairies, the gravestones in Tulsa's Oakland cemetery shimmer silently in the midday sun.
Up to 300 people are thought to have been buried here, in mass, unmarked graves; victims of a riot which the city has long tried to forget.
For decades, the events of May 1921 were brushed under the carpet by a city desperate to protect its reputation.
Now, nearly 80 years on, historians are trying to uncover the truth about what is thought to have been America's worst ever incident of racial violence.
It was on 31 May 1921 that trouble broke out.
A black shoeshine man was accused of attacking a white female lift operator, and was locked in the city's courthouse. Within hours, a white lynch mob had gathered and was marching on the black section of the city.
George Munro remembers it as if it was yesterday.
"At five-years-old, I thought the world was on fire," he recalls. He saw a gang of men carrying flaming torches approaching his family's home, and was dragged under the bed by his sisters.
He watched as the men marched past his hiding place.
He started to cry out, but his sister clapped a hand over his mouth, muffling his cries and saving his life.
The mobs burned thousands of homes to the ground, reducing black Tulsa to heaps of rubble.
For the last three quarters of a century, Mr Munro, as with almost everyone else involved, has kept his memories to himself.
The local papers barely gave it a mention, anxious to let a painful wound heal.
Commission seeks truth
But now the wound is being reopened. A state legislator from Tulsa's black community, Don Ross, has led a drive to confront the ugliest moment in his city's history.
"What is remarkable is that everyday Tulsans are trying to grapple with what was really a holocaust in their midst," says historian Scott Ellsworth.
"I think it's very important that Tulsa is trying to deal with this now."
The commission may consider reparations for the dwindling number of survivors of the riots. But for people like George Munro, it is more important to set the historical record straight.