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Nearly a hundred years after the horrific massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, experts searching for victims have found at least 10 bodies in an unmarked grave, state officials announced on Oct. 21. An estimated 300 people were killed when white mobs marched on Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood over two days in 1921.
Oklahoma state archaeologist Kary Stacklebeck said that 10 wooden coffins were discovered in an area known as the “Original 18,” where funeral home records show at least 18 Black victims were buried. It is believed that there is one person in each coffin, Stackelbeck said.
“What we were finding was an indication that they were inside a large area…a large hole that had been excavated and into which several individuals had been placed and buried in that location. This constitutes a mass grave,” Oklahoma state archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said, according to USA Today.
Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield, a descendant of a survivor of the massacre who is assisting in the search, said it will take time to determine the identity of the remains and cause of death. Stubblefield said that the remains’ teeth have shown up but non-dental structures have deteriorated.
“Those skeletal remains are not in great condition,” Stackelbeck said, according to The Associated Press (AP). “They’re not the worst condition we have seen…but they’re not the best.”
According to Tulsa World, it is unclear when researchers will be able to exhume the remains. In the meantime, researchers are covering them back up so as to not expose them to the elements. Stackelbeck noted that the condition of the bones, the high clay content of the soil and the poor condition of the coffins is complicating the excavation.
The Original 18
The latest discovery is consistent with newspaper reports and funeral home records from 1921 that 18 Black massacre victims were buried in Oaklawn Cemetery. Tulsa World noted that original reports did not say where the victims were buried, but an article from the newspaper dated on June 3, 1921, reported that they were buried “separately and in plain caskets.”
While there are two headstones marking the graves of two massacre victims in the Original 18, the area where the 10 remains were found is unmarked. Stackelbeck also noted that another set of remains were discovered nearby on Oct. 20.
“We have not yet made our assessment to say that these do actually represent the massacre victims,” Stackelbeck said. “Whether they are associated with the same event or the same time period of burial is something that we are still in the process of assessing.”
Stackelbeck and historian Scott Ellsworth said that it is possible that the remains belong to massacre victims who are not the 18 Black men.
Search for Massacre Mass Graves
Hundreds were murdered and thousands more displaced when mobs of white supremacists set businesses and homes ablaze in the city’s thriving Black neighborhood of Greenwood. The neighborhood, which was founded after the Civil War, was also known as “Black Wall Street” due to its thriving Black business scene.
Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, mobs of angry white people descended on Greenwood with shotguns and Molotov cocktails. The mobs terrorized the neighborhood and its residents for more than 16 hours, killing an estimated 300 people and driving thousands from their homes and businesses.
The violence began after rumors spread that a Black man attempted to sexually assault a white woman inside an elevator. However, a 2001 report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 determined that the man most likely tripped and bumped into the woman, who proceeded to scream and run away.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe.