More unmarked graves were discovered in a Tulsa cemetery as the city continues its search for unidentified victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
City officials said Wednesday 24 burials were found over the course of a week in Oaklawn Cemetery, including 19 adult-size and five child-sized graves.
The discovery is part of a years-long investigation into the massacre, during which a violent mob of white people targeted Black residents of Tulsa’s affluent Greenwood District. The mob destroyed more than 1,000 homes and decimated the thriving business district known as Black Wall Street, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. The massacre occurred two years after the “Red Summer” when hundreds of African Americans were killed by white mobs around the country.
Only 26 death certificates were issued for Black victims of the massacre according to the city, but some historians estimate as many as 300 Black people were killed during the attack. In 2020, Mayor G.T. Bynum launched an investigation into oral history reports that more victims of the massacre were buried in mass graves around the city and newspaper reports that 18 adult male victims were buried in a section of Oaklawn Cemetery.
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In October 2020, multiple coffins were discovered in Oaklawn Cemetery, resulting in 19 exhumations the following year, according to the city. Fourteen sets of remains were selected for DNA analysis, two of which had enough DNA for investigators to start developing a genealogy profile. The remains were later re-interred.
As DNA sampling from the original excavation continues, the city began a second excavation on Oct. 26.
Crews continue to excavate by hand and determine which graves meet the narrow criteria for exhumation. One individual buried in a simple coffin was exhumed Wednesday and taken to the on-site lab for further analysis. None of the child-size burials will be exhumed, city officials said.
“This is going to be part of our process of discriminating which ones we’re going to proceed with in terms of exhuming those individuals and which ones we’re actually going to leave in place,” Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said.
Stackelbeck said the group is proceeding cautiously in anticipation of rain on Friday. The excavation is expected to be complete by Nov. 18.
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Contributing: The Associated Press