Two Dozen New Graves, Including Children, Discovered In Black Wall Street Investigation

Forensic scientists have found 24 more unmarked graves that could be the bodies of Tulsa Massacre victims.

Three of the coffins discovered in Oklahoma burial sites are child-sized. About 75 to 300 African-Americans were reportedly killed when a white mob launched a fiery attack on an affluent Black neighborhood in Tusla in 1921.

Experts will decide which newly discovered graves they will exhume in order to identify the victims for their families. Tulsa officials said, however, “no child-size burials will be exhumed.”

A search crew finds coffins in unmarked graves on Oct. 26, 2022, in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo: City of Tulsa)

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, in 2018, announced the city’s plans to unearth the graves identified in a state-commissioned report. The Oaklawn Cemetery, where the two dozen bodies were discovered as new excavations started in late October, is one of four sites where victims were buried. The city hopes the investigation will offer more public oversight, historical context and physical evidence.

Massacre survivors and their descendants have been seeking answers and retribution from Tulsa for decades.

“The only way to move forward in our work to bring about reconciliation in Tulsa is by seeking the truth honestly,” Bynum said in a statement. “As we open this investigation 101 years later, there are both unknowns and truths to uncover. But we are committed to exploring what happened in 1921 through a collective and transparent process – filling gaps in our city’s history, and providing healing and justice to our community.”

A search crew carries remains found in unmarked graves October 26, 2022, in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo: City of Tulsa)

Just three survivors of the massacre are alive today. All of them are over 100 years old and are waiting to see a slender of justice with a federal lawsuit. The survivors, their relatives and the descendants of nine other survivors sued the city, the state military, the Tulsa Chamber, its development authority and board of county commissioners, along with the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the Tulsa County Sheriff in 2021. A judge gave the complaint a nod forward in May.

The deadly massacre frizzled the Greenwood neighborhood, also known as Black Wall Street, leaving tens of millions of damages and wiping out generational wealth from a well-to-do Black community.

City officials say 26 death certificates were issued in 1921, for Black victims of the massacre. Twenty-one of them were reportedly buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery. Newspaper reports from 1921 show that 18 adult male victims were buried in Oaklawn Cemetery Section 20. A ground penetrating radar also found signs of unmarked graves in the two other areas of the cemetery.

A forensic scientist examines an unmarked grave on July 20, 2020, in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo: City of Tulsa)

In 2020, a search crew discovered multiple coffins in the Sexton area of Oaklawn during a test excavation. A formal excavation in 2021 resulted in 19 exhumations of human remains. However, just 14 remains met the criteria for further DNA analysis, according to experts.

Finding DNA in bodies desecrated for over 100 years has proven difficult for scientists. They have yet to match the remains with their descendants. The remains unearthed in 2021 were later reburied. Forensic scientists say the process could take years.

According to the state’s 2001 report, Greenwood residents were terrorized and killed after they stood up to a white mob attempting to lynch a Black shoe shiner. The group of white men accused 19-year-old Dick Rowland of sexually assaulting a white girl he rode with in an elevator. However, the Black residents were outnumbered and ill-prepared for the armed white rioters. The white mob burned about 35 blocks destroying thousands of homes and businesses.

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