Tulsa officials: No 1921 Massacre graves excavated at Oak Lawn Cemetery

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TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – The test excavation to uncover potential mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre at Oaklawn Cemetery, where an anomaly was previously discovered, concluded on Wednesday.

Following eight days of searching, findings indicate no evidence of human remains are present in the excavation area.

“I want to thank the research team for their expertise and work the past eight days as they
exhausted all options to reach their conclusive assessment for this particular anomaly found in Oaklawn Cemetery,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “This initial test excavation was the first of many efforts to find Tulsa Race Massacre victims and this is just the beginning of our work to bring healing and justice to the families. We remain committed to find out what happened to our fellow Tulsans in 1921.”

After the initial backhoe work over the widest, middle-most swatch of the anomaly, crews started trenching in areas to the south of the initial area – namely trenches A, B and C.

“I entered this process with hope – hope of continuing the work of generations before us to uncover the truth of the Tulsa Race Massacre,” said Public Oversight Committee Chair Brenda Alford. “I still have that hope: I know that we are just at the beginning of a long-term investigation for truth, and that we have a powerful team assembled that will continue that work.”

Main findings at the excavation area include mostly fill debris and artifacts, some of which date back to the 1920s. A bullet, two pairs of shoes and an old, buried road were some of the most notable findings throughout the excavation.

Archeologists also found various bottles and other artifacts, which in their opinion, pre-date the 1921 era and could pre-date the cemetery itself.

“At this point, we believe we have fully investigated this anomaly, and unfortunately we have not discovered the evidence of Race Massacre victims we were hoping to find,” said Kary Stackelbeck, State Archeologist with the State of Oklahoma. “But we have learned a great deal about the cemetery itself, and this is information we can carry forward as we investigate future sites.”

Archeologists and members from the Physical Investigation Committee met Wednesday with the
Public Oversight Committee to discuss the test excavation findings and next steps.

Multiple sites of interest remain and are still candidates for possible mass graves related to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Tulsa Race Massacre

The Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma was once called the “Black Wall Street,” a 35-block radius in the segregated community thriving with hundreds of businesses.

But, on June 1, 1921, the entire area was burned down as a result of a riot that began after a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre

White residents attacked the community, killing hundreds of black residents and injuring 800 others.

Despite it being one of the worst instances of racial violence in the United States, the massacre was mostly swept under the rug.

“For decades, Oklahoma schools did not talk about it. In fact, newspapers didn’t even print any information about the Tulsa Race Riot. It was completely ignored. It was one of those horrible events that everyone wanted to just sweep under the rug and ignore,” U.S. Senator James Lankford said.

Search for victims

Last year, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum proposed using $100,000 from the city’s budget to search for the mass graves of the victims.

Months ago, Bynum said crews would search Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park, The Canes, and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens for possible mass graves.

The test excavation was put on hold in March when the University of Oklahoma halted all fieldwork in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the City announced plans to continue with the test excavation.

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