Multiple bullet wounds found in remains of Black man during search for Tulsa massacre victims

The discovery was made at the Oaklawn Cemetery during an investigation into one of the United States' worst acts of racial violence.

Published 29 Jun 2021, 15:53 BST
20210618-DSC_0834.
Forensic anthropologist, Phoebe Stubblefield, with members of the Tulsa Mass Graves Public Oversight Committee, transport human remains through Oaklawn Cemetery on June 18, 2021.
Photograph by Courtesy City of Tulsa

Skeletal remains unearthed at a mass grave as part of an investigation into the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre have revealed that at least one of the victims was shot several times, including in the head and shoulder. The discovery, announced last week, comes less than a month after the 100th anniversary of one of the United States' most heinous acts of racial violence.

The remains of the Black man with multiple bullet wounds is part of extensive work by forensic scientists and archeologists at the Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who are searching for unmarked burial sites of victims.

Researchers documenting findings at Oaklawn Cemetery's mass graves investigation site.
Photograph by Courtesy City of Tulsa

The thriving Black community of Greenwood was destroyed when a white mob torched hundreds of homes and businesses a century ago. As many as 300 people are thought to have been killed. Nearly 10,0000 people were left without homes, almost the entire Black population in Tulsa.

In the latest phase of the investigation, searchers uncovered 35 coffins containing skeletal remains and sent 20 for forensic examination, according to state archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck.

One of the exhumed coffins, believed to be made for an infant, contained no identifiable human remains, according to Phoebe Stubblefield, the lead forensic anthropologist.

Phoebe Stubblefield seen in the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida in February. Dr. Stubblefield is part of the team of researchers and scientists excavating human remains at Oaklawn Cemetery in an effort to identify the Black victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Photograph by Bethany Mollenkof, National Geographic

Analysis has been done on nine of the other 19 remains found in coffins sent to the lab. Investigators have determined that the remains of five were juveniles while the remaining four were adults. One set of the remains were of the Black man with multiple gunshot wounds. His remains had initially been found in October of 2020 when authorities were excavating the Black section of the cemetery. But they had not been exhumed until permission was granted from a judge for forensic analysis.

The remains were found in the so-called “Original 18” section of the cemetery where investigators believe the bodies of 18 victims of the massacre were buried in unmarked graves.

"Funeral home records and other documents for 1921 show that at least eighteen identified and unidentified African American massacre victims were buried in the city-owned cemetery,” Tulsa city officials have stated.

An artefact recovered during the mass graves investigation at Oaklawn Cemetery on June 22, 2021.

Photograph by Courtesy City of Tulsa

Stubblefield is confident the excavations will provide verification. “They’re in there,” she says. “I trust the documentation that at least the Original 18 are in there.”

Officials said the remains unearthed were of adults in their 30s and 40s. Experts believe women and children may not have been killed at the same rate during the massacre based on the fact that men were placed in plain coffins while women and children’s coffins were decorated or had art on them.

During the excavation process, descendants of massacre victims and other community members gathered at Oaklawn Cemetery where they prayed over the remains, before carrying boxes marked “Human Remains” to a temporary lab site not far from the mass grave.

View of mass graves investigation site at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, OK on Friday, June 25, 2021.
Photograph by Courtesy City of Tulsa

J. Kavin Ross, a descendant of a massacre victim, and chair of the Tulsa Mass Graves Public Oversight Committee, said he hopes that they continue to find more remains of the massacre victims.

“This process has been a very sobering and very powerful experience,” he says. “I’m anxious to give them a proper rest.” 

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