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1921 Race Massacre mass graves search continues

Posted at 3:04 AM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-22 13:11:33-04

TULSA, Okla. — The search continues for possible mass graves created after the 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa.

On day one, June 13, the team conducted site preparations and began the initial soil removal at Oaklawn Cemetery, one of the three possible mass graves locations.

A team of city employees and researchers from the University of Oklahoma dug into a sixteen by nine feet area on the west side of the cemetery. Researchers said they found some debris and a few artifacts on the first day.

Back in October 2019, the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) found an anomaly underground with a ground penetrating radar. Historians believe there could be human remains of victims of the 1921 Race Massacre buried there.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a press conference they are seeking the truth, the goal is to find justice for the victims and families.

The full test excavation began on day two, July 14. Researchers said they dug deeper into those original site. They decided to switch locations a bit and began digging more to the south of the original excavation because they were not finding any indicators they were in a grave shaft.

On day three, July 15, researchers said they continued to see the same results as the two days before. They found debris and artifacts in the new location, just south of the original excavation.

Day four, July 16, officials said they continued to dig to the south of the original location. There is no new information since from the day before. Researchers said although they have not found any new information, they feel each day is a new adventure.

On day five, July 17, researchers said they encountered a possible curb from a road under the service where they have been digging. They are interested in finding out what time period this road was from because it will tell the time period of all artifacts found underneath the road. They said their findings are consistent with the anomalies found underground from their ground penetrating radar earlier this year.

Researchers continue to work into week two of the mass graves investigation and test excavations on July 20.

On July 21, researchers said they found a well preserved pair of shoes. They said this is important because they will research the style and age to determine the time period they came from. Researchers also said the shoes appeared to be place in the location intentionally, which is important because it may be indication that graves could be potentially below the shoes.

Researchers said in their deep most zone, dark soil zone, they found a bottle, possibly a medicinal bottle, from 1910. They said this is the time frame they are looking for, and they are hopeful for that trench zone.

During a press conference on July 22, officials provided a summary of the search over the past two weeks. Researchers said the current location at the Oaklawn Cemetery is not the location they were looking for. They said they have exhausted their efforts at this current location and are now anticipating their next steps to move forward.

Researchers said they remain optimistic. In the coming days, they will be compiling data and completing a final report of their findings.

"This is the first step, and by no means is the last," said Kary Stackelbeck, State Archaelogist of the State of Oklahoma.

Researchers are now working with limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Chair Woman Brenda Alford, only a limited number of experts are allowed at the cemetery at a time.

Alford said, although they have limitations like social distancing, she's grateful and determined to resume this project.

Alford has a personal connection to this historic moment.

My grandparents and family members were survivors of the 1921 Race Massacre. Basically, they were black wall street entrepreneurs as well.
Brenda Alford | Chair Woman

Alford said she believes this process is long overdue, and the black citizens deserve to be respected and remembered. “These were fine upstanding members of our community who simply wanted a piece of our American dream," Alford said. "It was truly a tragedy that they did not deserve.”

Alford's grateful to Mayor Bynum for starting this process.

The excavation process started Monday June 13 around 10 a.m. at Oaklawn Cemetery in North Tulsa near Highway 75, and Route 66.


Officials said the search will last three to six days. If remains are found, there will not be a recovery process right away. The research team said it could take some time to go through that process.

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