TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Investigators want to expand their search for bodies of people killed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre after uncovering a dozen sets of remains during a cemetery excavation in October, a state official says.
State Archeologist Kary Stackelbeck confirmed Thursday that scientists believe more than 30 sets of remains may be interred at the site in Oaklawn Cemetery. He said investigators have so far identified an area of about 1,410 square feet (130 square meters) near the southwest corner of the cemetery for further study, the Tulsa World reported. That's almost five times as large as the trench they dug in October.
The estimate of the number of remains is based on the area’s size and the pattern of burials in that trench, Stackelbeck told a committee overseeing the search.
“I would caution this is a working hypothesis,” Stackelbeck said. “It is a possibility. But it is something we will have to go through the process of actually confirming in the next phases of the investigation and confirm it through the excavation process.”
Investigators uncovered what they believe to be at least 12 sets of remains — 11 in a single long trench and one in an individual grave.
Researchers don't know for certain that the remains are from the 1921 violence but believe it's likely, given the manner of burial and records indicating that 18 Black men killed in the massacre were buried in the general area being searched.
The massacre took place May 31 and June 1, 1921, when a white mob attacked Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, killing an estimated 300 mostly Black people and wounding 800 more, while robbing and burning businesses, homes and churches. The violence has been depicted in recent HBO shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft County.”
The remains found in October all appear to have been in coffins and were covered back up until a legally authorized exhumation could be arranged. City officials have said state laws governing exhumation did not anticipate a possible 100-year-old mass grave; without precedent as a guide, the legal work has been painstaking.