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More unmarked graves discovered in search for Tulsa Massacre victims

<i>cityoftulsa</i><br/>Crews are conducting an excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa
Crews are conducting an excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa

By Raja Razek and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

As part of the city’s effort to find unidentified victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, 17 additional adult burials have been uncovered at an excavation site in the Oaklawn Cemetery, the Oklahoma state archeologist said Monday.

The city is in the midst of a years-long investigation into the events of the 1921 massacre, which was inflicted by a violent White mob that targeted Black residents and destroyed Tulsa’s Greenwood district, a thriving Black economic hub. As many as 300 hundred people were killed and more than 1,000 homes are estimated to have been destroyed, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.

Only 26 death certificates were issued in 1921 for Black victims of the massacre, according to the city, 21 of which were reportedly buried in Oaklawn Cemetery.

After an excavation in the cemetery last year resulted in 19 exhumations, the city began a second excavation on October 26, according to an investigation update. The effort uncovered 16 exposed adult graves and one partially exposed grave, according to Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck.

Hand excavation around the coffins is underway to help determine which remains are candidates for exhumation and examination in a forensics lab, Stackelbeck said in an update posted to Facebook. The city has also said a forensics team would be at the site to assist in collecting viable DNA samples.

“We’re trying to do every step of this process as respectfully as possible,” Stackelbeck said. “And so we’re also anticipating having members of the Public Oversight Committee who are going to help us with the process of transporting remains from the excavation area to the forensics lab.”

The Public Oversight Committee includes decedents and Black leaders in the Tulsa community who advise the city during its investigation, according to the city website.

Stackelbeck said a pastor, reverend or other member of the clergy may also be present when the remains are transported.

The remains that were exhumed during the 2021 excavation were re-interred, according to the city.

The investigation is working with several expert partners to conduct forensic genetic genealogical analysis to identify victims who are found in the unmarked graves, in addition to collecting further oral histories and historical documents related to the massacre.

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