The recent search for remains of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre ended with the discovery of 32 additional caskets and the exhumation of eight remains, the city said.
Excavation and exhumation at Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery, which began Oct. 26, ended on Friday, and the remains were shipped to a nearby lab for analysis and DNA collection.
Searchers looked for unmarked graves of people believed to be male in simple coffins with signs of gunshot wounds – criteria for further investigation based on newspaper reports at the time, said forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield.
According to Stubblefield, two of the 66 remains found over the past two years have been confirmed to have gunshot wounds, although none have been identified or confirmed as victims of the massacre.
DNA from 14 sets of the nearly three dozen remains found last year was sent to Intermountain Forensics in Salt Lake City for further examination. DNA from teeth and femurs, known as femurs, will be extracted from the eight recently exhumed remains and also sent to Intermountain Forensics, Stubblefield said.
State archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said 62 of the 66 burials found so far were in unmarked graves.
Investigators are searching for a possible mass grave of victims of the 1921 massacre by a white mob that invaded the black part of Tulsa — Greenwood. More than 1,000 homes were burned, hundreds more were looted and destroyed, and a thriving business district known as Black Wall Street was destroyed.
Most historians who have studied the event put the death toll at between 75 and 300. Historians say many of the victims were buried in unmarked graves, their locations have never been recorded, and rumors of mass graves in the area have persisted for decades.
Stackelbeck said the remains exhumed so far, which meet criteria for possible massacre victims, are not in a mass grave but are scattered around the search area.
Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum said he considers the entire cemetery a mass grave.
“Is there a mass grave with people standing in a row like we imagined? That’s not the case,” Bynum said. “Is Oaklawn Cemetery still a mass grave? Yes.”
Investigators have recommended additional scanning of a nearby park and an adjacent homeless camp where oral histories suggest massacre victims were buried.
Bynum said the city will decide the next step after reviewing the next report from researchers, which is expected sometime next year.
All of the exhumed remains are being reburied, at least temporarily, in Oaklawn, where the previous reburial was closed to the public, prompting protests from about two dozen people who said they were descendants of massacre victims and were allowed to attend.
The massacre wiped out the wealth of generations and the victims were never compensated, but a pending lawsuit is calling for redress for the three remaining known survivors. They are all over 100 years old now.