TULSA, Okla. — The 1921 Graves Public Oversight Committee met Thursday night to discuss the next phase of its search after at least 12 coffins were found in the Oaklawn Cemetery last year.
The committee is hoping to resume its excavation at Oaklawn this summer, but first, it needs a plan for the remains found.
Before any work can be done, they must decide where to re-inter the remains once they are exhumed. Multiple committee members made it clear they don't want them to stay in Oaklawn.
"I don't want my ancestors buried in that cemetery," said Chief Amusan, a member of the committee. "I hope that she is not in that pit. But if she is, I'm making it clear today I don't want her buried there."
Whether they decide if remains should stay at Oaklawn or be moved, the city will have to apply for permits and file notices with the state health department. The physical investigation committee is proposing two scenarios for exhuming the remains.
First, if the analysis is inconclusive or indicates individuals are not victims of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, they would be re-interred at Oaklawn with a memorial for the search.
If they are found to be victims of the Tulsa race massacre, they would take DNA samples to identify them. Then, they could either be entombed above ground at a facility while waiting on DNA analysis, which researchers say could take more than a year. Or they would be re-interred at Oaklawn, and if next of kin is found, they can move them. They would also memorialize those found at Oaklawn.
The committee decided to take more time to discuss the re-interment location before making a decision.
Investigators are still planning to search other areas of Oaklawn, including the possibility there are more coffins underneath the ones found. They're also planning to do a geophysical survey at Rolling Oaks Cemetery, but are waiting on the owner to travel back to Oklahoma before they can move ahead.
The public oversight committee also calling on the district attorney's office to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the Tulsa race massacre.
"I push back on that notion that this is not something that he can prosecute because people may be dead," said Rev. Robert Turner, pastor of the Vernon AME Church and a member of the committee. "The people may be, but the institutions are not."
A group of members of the public oversight committee will look at additional cemetery options before their next meeting in February.
You can view more information from the meeting here.
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