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Twenty-four more graves excavated, including those of children, in probe of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Win McNamee/Getty Images

(TULSA, Okla.) — Forensic scientists have uncovered 24 additional unmarked graves in an Oklahoma cemetery, three of them containing child-sized coffins, as part an effort to identify victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, officials said.

The unmarked burial sites were discovered in Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery after excavations resumed there on Oct. 26, according to city officials who authorized the investigation.

The latest discovery was made Tuesday in the graveyard just southeast of downtown Tulsa, officials said.

“Three additional child-sized burials were discovered…in the southern block (of the cemetery),” the city said in a news release.

Twenty-one other burial sites were unearthed in the western section of the cemetery since the new excavation got underway last week, according to the city’s statement.

Four of the graves are being excavated by hand to determine if the remains should be exhumed for further analysis.

Remains from one of the graves were found in a simple coffin and exhumed on Tuesday to be analyzed in an on-site lab.

“Experts continue to be narrowly focused on which graves will be exhumed and have determined that no child-sized burial will be,” the city’s statement reads.

This is the second excavation to occur at the cemetery. An excavation last year uncovered 19 unmarked burial sites, officials said.

Historians suspect that 75 to 300 people, most of them Black, were killed in the Tulsa Race Massacre, which the Oklahoma Historical Society calls “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics officially recorded 36 deaths.

Following World War I, Tulsa was known for its affluent African American residents and black-owned businesses in an area called the Greenwood District, which was also referred to as “Black Wall Street.”

White mobs attacked Black residents in the neighborhood and burned down more than 1,000 homes and businesses during two days of riots that broke out between May 31 and June 1, 1921, prompted by allegations that a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner assaulted a white female elevator operator.

In 2018, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced the city would reexamine the unmarked graves identified in a 2001 state commissioned report. In addition to Oaklawn Cemetery, the city has designated three other potential areas to excavate, including a park in northwest Tulsa near the Arkansas River and the Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens cemetery.

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