Skeletal Remains Exhumed Near Tulsa Race Massacre Site Had Bullet Wounds to Head and Shoulder

Forensic researchers are investigating the site in hopes of providing proper burials for the remains of victims that are discovered.

People look at the 1921 Black Wall Street Memorial on the 100 year anniversary of the Greenwood massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31, 2021
People look at the 1921 Black Wall Street Memorial on the 100 year anniversary of the Greenwood massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31, 2021
Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP (Getty Images)

Forensic researchers in Tulsa have discovered 35 unmarked coffins from a mass grave that may be connected to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. So far, preliminary analysis has been done on the remains of 19 people exhumed from the site.

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The Tulsa World reports that on Friday, officials announced that one set of the remains unearthed from a Black potter’s field in Oaklawn Cemetery and analyzed were of a Black man that was shot multiple times, including in the head and shoulder. Other remains that were partially analyzed belonged to five juveniles and at least two women.

Experts say it’s possible that the women and children may not have been killed during the massacre based on the fact that they were in better coffins than the men they found buried in this section of the cemetery. The excavation team was mainly looking for men buried in cheap coffins, according to The World.

Nothing will be known for sure about the remains until the DNA research is complete. A full report on the findings is expected in the coming months.

From the World:

Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield said she has finished examining about half the remains and will finish examining the second half — including those with the bullet wounds — in the coming days.

Stubblefield said at least one bullet was found with the remains and bullet damage is apparent to the head and arm.

This latest attempt to find burials from the race massacre did not uncover the mass graves some expected and many believe exist somewhere in the Tulsa area, but it does seem likely to verify the location of the so-called “original 18" — 18 African Americans reported buried in an unspecified section of Oaklawn Cemetery in the days following the May 31-June 1, 1921, massacre.

“They’re in there,” said Stubblefield. “I trust the documentation that (indicates) at least the original 18 are in there.”

According to the Washington Post, the remains of the man with gunshot wounds were initially discovered last October, as part of a reignited city investigation to find potential mass graves of victims of the massacre.

But because a judge needed to sign off on exhuming the remains, the Post reports, they remained buried at the site until excavation resumed on June 1–the 100th anniversary of the massacre, during which a white mob burned Greenwood, an affluent Black community known as “Black Wall Street,” to the ground after a Black teen was accused of assaulting a white girl in an elevator.

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It’s been said that more than 300 people were killed during the massacre, but the exact number remains unknown to this day.

The Post reports that the plan from this point on is to identify the unknown remains and connect them to living descendants. Eventually, an oversight committee will work to find a proper resting place for the remains.

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From the Post:

As remains were exhumed, descendants of massacre victims and Black activists gathered at Oaklawn Cemetery. There, they prayed over the remains, which were draped in black velvet shrouds and placed in boxes.

The activists then carried the boxes marked “Human Remains.” Three people on each side — much like pallbearers — walked in slow procession across the cemetery to a temporary lab site constructed not far from the mass grave.

J. Kavin Ross, a massacre descendant and chair of the Mass Graves Public Oversight Committee, said: “This process has been a very sobering and very powerful experience. We are hopeful for more findings. … I’m anxious to give them a proper rest.”

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One thing that’s striking, but not surprising, about the excavation attempts in Tulsa is that there’s always a group of (mostly white) people who are vehemently against efforts like this because they “sow division,” or because we need to “get over racism,” and so on and so forth. You can find people like this in the comments section of any news article about the Tulsa massacre, including the ones linked in this post.

For people who feel this way, let’s keep it simple: This massacre, one of the worst examples of racial violence in this country, was shameful. The fact that people worked overtime to cover up the fact that it happened was shameful. The fact that there were people killed during this massacre whose descendants never received closure about what happened to them is shameful. And the fact that many learned about this for the first time watching a television show that featured a glowing blue man known for his affinity toward being naked instead of during their history classes at school is, you guessed it, shameful.

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People like to talk about how we need to remember our history so we don’t repeat it. That applies here, too. If learning more about the Tulsa Race Massacre happened makes you so uncomfortable that you’d rather continue pretending it didn’t happen, that says more about you than it does anyone else.

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