Tulsa Race Massacre investigators have sequenced DNA from 6 possible victims : NPR
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A team of researchers hoping to identify the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre said Wednesday they have completed DNA sequencing of six sets of human remains exhumed from the Cemetery of ‘ The city’s Oaklawn, where bodies of Black residents killed in the violence are believed to have been buried.
Speaking in a news conference in Tulsa, Mayor GT Bynum announced what he described as a “major scientific breakthrough.”
“We do not believe that a match of this type has ever been achieved before in American history,” said the Mayor.
Bynum said so far 22 sets of remains have been removed from the cemetery, but that experts are still unsure if any of them were victims of a massacre. However, DNA results can allow researchers to make matches with possible living relatives.
The 1921 Tulsa massacre left over 300 African Americans dead and resulted in the destruction of “Black Wall Street” in the city’s prosperous Greenwood enclave. Although the story of the two days of violence that began on May 31, 1921, had long been unknown outside the city, in recent years Tulsa has been involved in reckoning with the events. In 2020, the city began excavating Oaklawn Cemetery in hopes of finding and identifying remains of the victims.
“There is no single genealogical investigation of this magnitude in the United States that has come so far, and yet, we are still in the early stages of this process,” Bynum said. “There is much more investigative work taking place, and with the public’s help, we look forward to entering the next phase of this process.”
For the six sets of remains that were examined, the research team has identified surnames of interest for potential relatives in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. If a member of the public sees their surname tagged and has a family history in Tulsa, they are asked to contact the team at Tulsa1921DNA.org.
Alison Wilde, the genealogy case manager for the 1921 Tulsa Project, says anyone who shares the surnames in question and lives in or has historical ties to the designated areas may be able to help. They can upload their own DNA tests GEDmatch or FamilyTreeDNA so that researchers can examine them for possible comparison.
“You might have taken a test on ancestry.com or 23andMe or MyHeritage,” she said, referring to popular DNA testing and genealogy websites. “[But] if you want your DNA compared to the unidentified human remains in this project then those tests have to be uploaded or transferred.”
Using DNA information from the public, the team hopes to draw up a list of possible matches.
“How easy or challenging the identification will be depends on the people on that list,” Wilde said.
It will be easier if the team can discover “a direct descendant who will share an obvious and significant amount of DNA.” But it’s also possible that the list is “made up of very, very distant DNA relatives — so far back in time that we may never be able to link them together,” she said.
Danny Hellwig, director of lab development for Intermountain Forensics, the Salt Lake City-based lab that sequenced the DNA, promised that Intermountain and the rest of the team “will continue to leave no stone unturned surrounded in this investigation for truth and justice.”
“This is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long and fulfilling process of investigating these results, using the most advanced DNA technologies available,” said Hellwig.
In November, the Tulsa World newspaper reported that a total of 66 burials were discovered in Oaklawn Cemetery, all but four of which were unmarked. It is believed that many victims of the massacre were buried in unmarked graves, but their locations have never been recorded.