Researchers find skeletal remains of children, man with gunshot wounds at unmarked graves near Tulsa Race Massacre site

A team of archeologists and forensic scientists investigating gravesites that may be connected to the Tulsa Race Massacre announced their findings on Friday, which included the skeletal remains of children and a Black man with multiple gunshot wounds.

The investigation done by the 1921 Graves Investigation team began in July 2020 with archeologists examining sites potentially linked to the massacre. The team later found 12 graves in October 2020 in the area of the “Original 18,” a place where funeral home records show at least 18 Black massacre victims were buried. It wasn’t until June 1 that the team began to exhume graves from the site.

The team announced on Friday that a total of 35 graves were found. Of those graves, 19 individuals were taken for forensic analysis, with nine of them completed.

“Five of those nine were juveniles, and the remaining four are adults,” said forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield, a descendant of a survivor of the massacre who is assisting in the search. She added that one individual was an older female, while the remaining adults’ ages ranged from 30s-to-40s. 

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Stubblefield said the team is also examining the shapes of skulls to determine their ancestry.

“So far, when we can detect it, has been of African descent,” she said.

There was one Black man found in a casket that still had a bullet lodged in his left shoulder.

Members of the excavation team and the public oversight committee carry a grave out of the unmarked site. (Photo: Courtesy: 1921 Graves Investigation)

“He does have associated trauma,” Stubblefield said. “He has multiple projectile wounds… it affects his cranium and possibly his left arm.”

Oklahoma state archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck told reporters that of the 35 graves, only one was marked, while the rest have no record of name, age or cause of death. 

There is no exact number of Black people who died as a result of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which began on May 31, 1921, and lasted two days. As many as 300 Black residents were killed and over 35 square blocks of the area of Greenwood, known as “Black Wall Street”, was destroyed. 

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Once the bodies complete scientific analysis, the Mass Graves Public Oversight Committee will recommend where to permanently bury the people.

Kavin Ross, chair of the Mass Graves Public Oversight Committee and a descendent of a survivor of the massacre, said the process was a “very sobering and very powerful experience,” and hopes for more findings.

“There was no documentation of the few that we did find, by the city or anywhere else. But I’m so happy that we did find these folks,” Ross said. “I’m anxious to put them in a proper rest.”

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