The remains of two adults have been found in an archaeological dig at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, amid efforts to find unidentified victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
At the ongoing third excavation, which began earlier in September, archaeologists have exposed 22 grave shafts, among which two remains were discovered.
“We have two adults in simple wood caskets and one of those is being exhumed today,” Kary Stackelbeck, the state archaeologist, said in a video posted Wednesday to the 1921 Graves Facebook page, which was created by the city with live video feeds and updates on the excavation.
The second adult was expected to be exhumed Thursday, Stackelbeck said.
Investigators have been using limited information regarding individuals buried in the cemetery from death certificates and funeral homes, according to Stackelbeck.
From this information, they have been able to determine they’re searching for “a number of adult male individuals that were supposed to be buried in simple wood coffins here in Oaklawn cemetery,” Stackelbeck said.
“What that means then is that when we are excavating on some of these other graves, we have gotten to a point … where we can determine that they are fancier or nicer coffins, and they are not of the type that we would otherwise anticipate are supposed to be associated with the individuals that we continue to look for,” she added.
The dig is part of the 1921 Graves Investigation, an effort to identify currently unidentified victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The first full excavation took place on June 21 and yielded 35 burials, which included 20 remains that were exhumed, according to the City of Tulsa. The second full excavation took place in October and November 22 and yielded 32 more exposed burials, including eight remains that were exhumed, the city said.
The Tulsa race riot of 1921, also called the Tulsa race massacre, resulted in the death of hundreds of African American residents of the city’s Greenwood district – then a Black economic hub also known as Black Wall Street – when a mob of White rioters looted and burned the community.
Historians believe as many as 300 people died after more than 1,000 homes were burned and destroyed. At the end of the violence, Black Wall Street was decimated.
Bodies were buried by strangers in mass graves while the victims’ families were detained under martial law, according to Scott Ellsworth, a University of Michigan historian who has worked on the recovery of the Tulsa riot graves for decades.
Families were never told whether their loved ones died or where they were buried, and there weren’t any funerals, he added.