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Burial sites for victims of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre found at cemetery

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tulsa race massacre coffins mass grave

Excavation begins anew at Oaklawn Cemetery in a search for victims of the Tulsa race massacre believed to be buried in a mass grave, on June 1, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla. (Sue Ogrocki / AP)

The ongoing search for mass graves of the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre has uncovered several more burial sites, according to forensic archeologists. At least five coffins were discovered at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa this week, all badly decomposed but likely containing bodies of the victims. 

The discovery was made by state archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck. Ms. Stackelbeck confirmed the burial sites that potentially include human remains, but reminded city officials and observers to remain cautious, stating, “We are just coming down to the point where we are on top of the coffins for each of those burials, but we are not digging any deeper than that,” owing to the potential for rain next week. 

Oaklawn Cemetery, located on Peoria Street and 11th Street, is the site of at least 18 burials, according to historical records, although the exact locations of each site remains unknown. 

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Both Stackelbeck and Tulsa Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee Chairman Kavin Ross said it’s possible the remains are from people who died from other things, such as the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed an estimated 7,350 in Oklahoma in 1918 and 1919.

Stackelbeck said the number of remains found in Oaklawn Cemetery now stands at 27, up from 20 discovered as of last week, and that all have been found in coffins.

Full number of victims unknown

The number of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is of some dispute, however historians estimate the number at several hundred, noting that hundreds of Tulsans were injured, with thousands displaced during the massacre. The event, recently commemorated with a Centennial, occurred from May 31-June 2. It represented the first and only aerial bombing assault on a civilian population in the United States, as a white mob was deputized to terrorize and kill Black people in Tulsa. 

The Centennial events included the opening of a new large-scale mural depicting the massacre, panel discussions at the Greenwood Cultural Center, and even a visit from President Joe Biden, as the world focused on Tulsa last weekend. 

However, the community-led Black Wall Street Legacy Fest kept the focus of the Centennial events on the demands for reparations and restitution from the three living survivors, as well as descendants and unknown victims. The City of Tulsa recently passed a unanimous resolution to create a community-led process to evaluate reparations recommendations from a two-decade old report.

With the emergency clause enacted in the resolution, the City of Tulsa gave itself six months to take action, meaning a process for evaluating reparations for survivors and descendants should materialize by the beginning of December 2021.

1 comment

gregbreakpointgmailcom June 5, 2021 - 8:20 pm

Good work Erika! This is at least an acknowledgement that the number killed could be much higher. The “at most 300” is a number used for a while that originally came from OK government, highly suspect. And how many died from injuries among the “large number of injured”? Of course the apologists are now claiming these uncovered remains are from the Spanish flu 3 years earlier and some may be as mass graves were used then to try to control infection. Do these forensic Archeologists have any way to distinguish between violent deaths and illness deceased?

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