The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history.
During the horrific incident, a violent white mob targeted Black people and the wider Greenwood district of Tulsa which was known as Black Wall Street.
More than 1,000 homes were burned, hundreds were looted, and Black Wall Street was destroyed. Historians have estimated the death toll at 75 to 300.
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Rumours of mass unmarked graves have persisted for decades, but previous searches found nothing.
The latest search led to the city’s Oaklawn Cemetery.
Seventeen adult-size graves were located Friday and Saturday, Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said Monday.
Additionally, the city announced Tuesday that four graves, two adult-size and two child-size, had been found.
The coffins and the remains, will be examined to see if they match reports from 1921 that the victims were males buried in plain caskets.
“This is going to part of our process of discriminating which ones we’re going to proceed with in terms of exhuming those individuals and which ones we’re actually going to leave in place,” Stackelbeck said.
The work, by hand, was still under way. The types of coffins and gender of the victims have not been determined, according to the city’s statement.
The current search began in 2020 in areas identified with ground-penetrating radar as possibly containing coffins and resumed last year, with nearly three dozen coffins found.
Fourteen sets of remains exhumed from those coffins were selected for DNA testing, and two had enough DNA to begin sequencing and start developing a genealogy profile.
The current search includes reexhuming and removing to a lab at the cemetery the other 12 remains in an effort to collect more usable DNA in an effort to eventually identify them.
All the remains will be reburied, at least temporarily, at Oaklawn, where the previous reburial was closed to the public, drawing protests from about two dozen people who said they are descendants of massacre victims and should have been allowed to attend.