Updated as of 11/21/2022 at 9:46 a.m. ET
Oklahoma officials have announced they have found 17 additional unmarked graves at an excavation site in the Oaklawn Cemetery, according to CNN. This is a part of Tulsa’s ongoing effort to find the unidentified victims of 1921’s Tulsa Race massacre.
Beginning in 2018, the city of Tulsa started an extensive investigation into the massacre, which included searching for mass graves. In 1921 a violent white mob specifically targeted Tulsa’s Greenwood district, nicknamed “Black Wall Street.” More than 1,000 homes were burned to the ground and looted. While it’s estimated 300 hundred people were killed, only 26 death certificates were issued for the Black victims of the massacre, as noted by the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Twenty-one of them were reportedly buried in Oaklawn Cemetery.
Last year, an excavation effort at the cemetery resulted in 19 exhumations. Some of those bodies were later reburied. The additional excavation, which occurred on October 26th, resulted in finding 16 burials exposed and one partially exposed, according to Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck.
In a final effort at the site on Friday, Nov. 18th, 32 additional caskets were discovered, and eight sets of remains were exhumed, as noted by the Huffington Post. Two sets of the 66 remains found in the past two years have been confirmed to have gunshot wounds. However, none have been confirmed to be victims of the massacre as of yet.
Right now, the hand excavations around the coffins are happening to determine candidates for exhumation and examination in a forensics lab. A forensics team is also on hand to take DNA samples.
Stackelbeck has also stated a pastor, reverend, or other members of the clergy may also be present when the remains are transported.
“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.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum feels strongly that the entire cemetery is a mass grave. While some investigators have said researchers should continue the search in a nearby park, Bynum states no decisions will be made until a report is seen next year.
“Is there a mass grave where there are people lined up in a row like we thought might be? That is not the case,” Bynum said. “Is Oaklawn Cemetery still a mass grave? Yes.”