Second gunshot victim found in search for 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre graves

(TULSA, Okla.) — A second gunshot victim was found among 32 new graves in the search for victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

The archeologists leading the search began a second round of excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery late last month and concluded the process Friday.

“That individual was buried with personal effects, including one shoe and keys,” Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield said during a press conference. “His manner of burial indicates haste or certainly the lack of consideration.”

This is the second victim found at the site with a confirmed gunshot wound.

Stubblefield is a forensic anthropologist who specializes in human identification and is leading the excavations that began at the cemetery in 2020. Experts have uncovered a total of 66 unmarked graves since the start of the search.

Forensic scientists in Tulsa will continue to examine the recently exhumed burials. DNA samples from those that meet the criteria of potential massacre victims will then be sent to Intermountain Forensics lab in Utah for further testing.

Intermountain Forensics was able to extract DNA from two of the 14 sets of remains sent to them last year.

The team in Tulsa needed to re-exhume the other 12 individuals during this latest search to get additional samples for testing.

The newly discovered burials will be kept above ground until the Utah lab confirms it has enough DNA to proceed with tests.

Historical documents and witness accounts from the 1920s indicate several black men killed during the massacre were placed in plain caskets and buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in unmarked graves. City officials say although the excavation is a significant step in the search for massacre victims, experts have not yet determined if the burials are from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

“We’re not looking for a needle in a haystack, we’re looking for a needle in a needle stack,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said.

About 1,200 Black residents lived in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood in the early 1900s. The area was also home to hundreds of successful Black-owned businesses and became known as “Black Wall Street.”

On the evening of May 31, 1921, a confrontation between groups of white and Black residents prompted by the arrest of a young Black man named Dick Rowland who was accused of assaulting a white woman. The violence ended with an entire 35-block area burned to the ground.

Historians estimate that between 100 and 300 people were killed during the massacre. Many of the victims’ bodies have never been found.

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