Oklahoma archaeologists and Tulsa officials plan a private ceremony Friday to reinter 19 bodies exhumed as part of the search for additional Tulsa Race Massacre victims.

City officials said forensic analysis of the bodies exhumed at Oaklawn Cemetery wrapped up two weeks ago, though efforts to identify the individuals continues.

Officials said they plan a short, private ceremony with the 1921 Graves Public Oversight Committee at 9 a.m. Friday before the bodies are reinterred in Oaklawn. The cemetery is closed through Friday for the reburial, the city said in a statement announcing the event. The city also said it plans to provide photographs of the ceremony along with videos on its website.

The burial wraps up nearly two months of excavation and forensic work inside the cemetery that officials suspect could hold unidentified remains of Tulsa Race Massacre victims.

Off and on for more than two decades, teams with the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey have been trying to piece together what happened to Black victims of the 1921 massacre in Tulsa’s Greenwood District.

In October 2020, crews first located the graves of at least 12 bodies inside the mass burial site, but it wasn’t until June 1 that they returned to the site to exhume the bodies and search for additional remains..

Officially, 38 deaths have been confirmed after a white mob murdered, looted and burned the Greenwood District over about 16 hours starting on May 31, 1921, but historians now estimate between 100 and 300 people may have been killed, with many of the Black victims quickly buried in unmarked mass graves without a coroner’s report or a death certificate.

Kary Stackelbeck, state archaeologist, said last month that crews identified 35 graves during their search in Oaklawn Cemetery. They chose to exhume 20. All but one of the graves was unmarked with no records indicating who was buried inside. Nineteen contained remains adequate for forensic analysis, she said.

Crews focused their analysis on Black males who were buried in plain caskets. The decorated caskets tended to contain women, who were memorialized by loved ones.

Forensic officials said last month that while the race of the individuals was primarily Black, preliminary findings indicate only one grave contained remains that showed obvious trauma. That man was buried in a plain casket in an area that contained the remains of children. He had a bullet in his left shoulder, multiple projectile wounds including ones to his head and possibly left arm, forensic officials said.

Officials are expected to provide a formal presentation and final report about their findings to the oversight committee in the coming months, Tulsa officials said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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