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Another body found in search for Tulsa race massacre victims

October 22, 2020 GMT
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A researcher gives a thumbs-up as work continues on a second test excavation and core sampling in the search for remains at Oaklawn Cemetery from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)
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A researcher gives a thumbs-up as work continues on a second test excavation and core sampling in the search for remains at Oaklawn Cemetery from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The search for remains of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims on Thursday revealed another body in an unmarked mass grave at a Tulsa cemetery before coming to an end, Oklahoma’s state archaeologist said.

“We are now able to confirm that we have at least 11 individual burials” in the area where at least 10 sets of remains were found in Oaklawn Cemetery on Wednesday, Kary Stackelbeck said.

“That’s in addition to the original individual,” who was located near the area on Tuesday, Stackelbeck added. “So now we have at least a minimum number of individuals of 12.”

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The remains have not been identified or confirmed as massacre victims. But they’re in an area adjacent to two gravestones of victims and located where old funeral home records show both identified and unidentified victims were buried.

Stackelbeck said more bodies could be in the area, even buried below those that have been found, because investigators stopped digging when encountering the coffins.

The excavation began Monday after one in July ended with no remains found and is being stopped to protect the remains that are still below ground from weather that includes expected cold temperatures and rain, according to Stackelbeck.

The remains will be reburied under a fabric, sand and plywood for protection and the search is to resume next year.

Exhumation is a legal process, according to University of Florida forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield, who is assisting in the search and a descendant of a massacre survivor, who described the remains as fragile.

“You can recognize the bones for the most part, but no two pieces are touching, including large cranial fragments” that would fracture if touched, Stubblefield noted.

“I am very hopeful based on the cranial fragments, and teeth ... that we will enough to determine things like ancestry, definitely sex and maybe, maybe cause of death,” said Stubblefield.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, who in 2018 proposed looking for the victims of the violence and later budgeted $100,000 to fund it after previous searches failed to find victims, said the search reversed nearly a century of ignoring the massacre.

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“We now have found a mass grave and now the question is ‘who’s in it’ and ‘how did they get there,’” Bynum said.

Bynum has said efforts will be made to contact and notify descendants of the victims.

The massacre — which happened two years after what is known as the “Red Summer,” when hundreds of African Americans died at the hands of white mobs in violence around the U.S. — has been depicted in recent HBO shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft County.”

It also received renewed attention after President Donald Trump selected Tulsa as the location for a June rally amid a national reckoning over police brutality and racial violence. Trump moved the date to avoid coinciding with a Juneteenth celebration in the Greenwood District commemorating the end of slavery.