Race Massacre Investigators Seeking Legal Approval To Exhume, Study Remains

Dec 18, 2020

Researchers searching Oaklawn Cemetery for remains of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre are pursuing legal approval to exhume and study bodies discovered in their October dig, which revealed a mass grave.

"Additional investigations are needed to confirm the actual dimensions of the mass grave and collect detailed data on the remains themselves to assess, to the extent possible, the demographics (age at death, sex, and likely ethnicity) of this burial population, cause of death, and potential evidence of trauma," the investigators said in a report released Thursday. "These variables are vital for associating these individuals with the Tulsa Race Massacre. The City is pursuing the requisite medico-legal authorization to facilitate exhumation."

The team believes they have discovered the resting place of at least 12 individuals, though they say it's possible more than 30 individuals are buried there in total.

"Typically, to get the full story on how an event like that mass grave could occur, we will need to expose it to its entirety, but this is our next phase, is excavating in a way to determine the context of the burials" said Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist partially leading the investigation, on a virtual meeting of the city's 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee on Thursday evening.

The Thursday meeting was largely focused on presenting findings; the oversight committee and investigation committee are set to reconvene in January to discuss potential next steps and further excavations in Oaklawn and other locations.