Seventeen additional unmarked adult burials were found at an excavation site in the Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The city has been carrying out its years-long effort to find the unidentified victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, violent mobs of white people decimated over 30 blocks of businesses, murdering hundreds of Black residents and destroying more than 1,000 residential homes. Still, only 26 death certificates were issued for Black victims of the massacre—21 reportedly buried in Oaklawn Cemetery.
“We’re trying to do every step of this process as respectfully as possible,” Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said in an update shared on Facebook. “And so we’re also anticipating having members of the Public Oversight Committee who are going to help us with the process of transporting remains from the excavation area to the forensics lab.”
Of the 17 adult burials discovered this week, Stackelbeck noted that 16 of them were exposed and one partially exposed. Hand-excavation work is underway to help determine which burials are options for exhumation.
Last summer, an excavation in the Oaklawn Cemetery resulted in 19 exhumations of human remains, 14 of which fit the criteria for further DNA analysis.
The current search is expected to conclude by Nov. 18.
In August, An Oklahoma judge ruled that six descendants of victims of the massacre cannot sue for reparations. The Historic Vernon AME Church Inc., The Tulsa African Ancestral Society, which represents other descendants, the Tulsa Development Authority, and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission were also dismissed because they did not exist in 1921, per AP News.
However, the judge also ruled that three known survivors of the attack could move forward with the lawsuit. Lessie Benningfield “Mother” Randle, 106, Viola “Mother” Fletcher, 107, and Hughes Van Ellis, Sr., 101, to continue seeking reparations under state nuisance laws.
The city of Tulsa, Tulsa Regional Chamber, Tulsa County commissioners, the Tulsa County sheriff and the Oklahoma Military Department, named as the defendants.