City of Tulsa
Researchers have discovered 21 other unmarked adult graves that may be linked to victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921.
Tulsa, Okla., City officials announced Monday that 17 adult-sized graves were found at an Oaklawn Cemetery dig site and four more were uncovered on Tuesday, including two children’s graves.
The project is part of the city’s years-long effort to get an accurate tally of the number of people killed when a white mob decimated the affluent Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, where black residents lived under Jim Crow segregation.
Some historians estimate that up to 300 black people were killed in the attack and the days of martial law that followed. Almost all are believed to have been buried in a series of mass graves approved by white authorities at the time. Under the temporary restrictions, black family members of the deceased would have been barred from attending burials, as they were held in armed guard, away from their deceased mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.
Historical accounts trace the spark of the riot to an incident between a young black man and a white woman in a downtown elevator. The man, who worked as a shoe shiner and was in the elevator on the way to the toilet, allegedly offended the woman, who worked as an elevator operator.
The incident happened shortly after a series of race riots swept through the county in 1919.
Scientists will start digging by hand
Scientists at the Tulsa site will now begin digging by hand, using finer-grit tools to clean the coffins, according to the state archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck. This will help researchers analyze the style of construction and hardware of coffins to determine when they were buried.
“It will be part of our process of discriminating who we are going to proceed with in terms of exhuming these individuals and who we are actually going to leave in place, at least for now,” she added.
Researchers also found 19 unidentified bodies in 2o21 which were later reburied.
“But testing on some hasn’t been very good,” Stackelbeck said in an update last week. Now, she explained, teams are returning to those same bodies to “get additional samples and hopefully get better results.”
“Just like last year, we try to do every step of this process as respectfully as possible,” she said.
A pastor or other clergy member will also be present when the remains are transported to the forensic laboratory.
The excavations are expected to be completed by November 18.