AUSTIN, Texas - Back in 2017, Austin city employees discovered human remains buried underneath a chapel at Oakwood Cemetery in east Austin. Those remains were sent out to be tested.
Now almost three years later, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department received the archaeological report giving insight to these people.
“We were able to locate quite a number of burials. We did identify 37 [graves]. Those were the ones that were exhumed,” said Kim McKnight, program manager for historic preservation and heritage tourism.
Those 37 graves were exhumed from underneath a chapel located inside Oakwood Cemetery. One did not have any remains in it so 36 were sent off to Texas State University to be analyzed.
Three years later, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department received the archeological report.
“[We were] able to start to get a fuller picture of the lives that these people potentially lived in terms of their socio-economic status, potential race, and ethnicity-based on some of the metrics associated with the skeletal remains,” said McKnight.
Through non-invasive analysis of the remains, the report revealed 16 out of the 36 skeletal remains could not be determined because most of them were only infants.
“I don't want to speculate, we have the results that we have, we know that certainly, infant mortality was probably much higher during this time,” said McKnight.
Of the 20 other skeletal remains, six were black, six were white, seven were Hispanic, and one was Asian, and all are speculated to be from poor families.
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“This project is really our best opportunity to learn as much as we possibly can about their lives, which were clearly forgotten. They will not be forgotten ever again,” said McKnight.
McKnight says Oakwood Cemetery is the very first municipal cemetery in Austin. She says the section where the remains were found used to be segregated.
On top of the skeletal remains, personal belongings were also found.
“It kind of humanized and put perspective everything by seeing the personal items that were buried with people,” said Tonja Walls-Davis, division manager over cemetery operations.
The city plans to rebury these remains in the same cemetery but in proper graves.
“Regardless of who they were, we just know that it was an injustice done to these people at that time. They’re somebody's family. We might not ever know who they belong to, but we felt like we needed to do the right thing about it,” said Walls-Davis.
The City of Austin also plans to create an exhibit to honor those buried.