Mass grave found during search for Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre victims

Mid-South

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The search for remains of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims on Thursday revealed another body in an unmarked mass grave at a Tulsa cemetery before coming to an end, Oklahoma’s state archaeologist said.

“We are now able to confirm that we have at least 11 individual burials” in the area where at least 10 sets of remains were found in Oaklawn Cemetery on Wednesday, Kary Stackelbeck said.

“That’s in addition to the original individual,” who was located near the area on Tuesday, Stackelbeck added. “So now we have at least a minimum number of individuals of 12.”

(Photo courtesy of 1921 Graves via Facebook)

The remains have not been identified or confirmed as massacre victims. But they’re in an area adjacent to two gravestones of victims and located where old funeral home records show both identified and unidentified victims were buried.

Stackelbeck said more bodies could be in the area, even buried below those that have been found, because investigators stopped digging when encountering the coffins.

The excavation began Monday after one in July ended with no remains found and is being stopped to protect the remains that are still below ground from weather that includes expected cold temperatures and rain, according to Stackelbeck.

The remains will be reburied under a fabric, sand and plywood for protection and the search is to resume next year.

Exhumation is a legal process, according to University of Florida forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield, who is assisting in the search and a descendant of a massacre survivor. Stubblefield described the remains as fragile.

“You can recognize the bones for the most part, but no two pieces are touching, including large cranial fragments” that would fracture if touched, Stubblefield noted.

(Photo courtesy of 1921 Graves via Facebook)

“I am very hopeful based on the cranial fragments, and teeth … that we will enough to determine things like ancestry, definitely sex and maybe, maybe cause of death,” said Stubblefield.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, who in 2018 proposed looking for the victims of the violence and later budgeted $100,000 to fund it after previous searches failed to find victims, said the search reversed nearly a century of ignoring the massacre.

“We now have found a mass grave and now the question is ‘who’s in it’ and ‘how did they get there,’” Bynum said.

Bynum has said efforts will be made to contact and notify descendants of the victims.

The city of Tulsa is providing updates and photos of the excavation efforts on its 1921 Graces Facebook page.

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