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Third excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery to start in search for Tulsa Race Massacre victims

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Posted at 7:01 AM, Sep 05, 2023

TULSA, Okla. — The search for mass graves associated with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre will pick back up.

The third round of excavation efforts at Oaklawn Cemetery will be going on this week and this round was only confirmed to happen after some testing done this summer.

These efforts have been going on for a few years now, but Tuesday, September 5 marks the start of another step in the process.

Mayor G.T. Bynum and members of the 1921 graves physical investigation team will be briefing everyone at 9 on Tuesday morning on what to expect this round.

What we know right now is that site preparation will start on Tuesday and last a few days. Once the preparation of the site is complete, the full excavation will commence.

The decision to move forward with a third excavation came after test excavations were done this summer.

Those tests involved removing the top layers of soil east of the original excavation site at Oaklawn Cemetery.

During the first two rounds of excavation, the City of Tulsa said crews found 67 sets of remains.

Although, it's not clear whether any of those remains are victims of the race massacre.

Scientists exhumed many of those remains and took DNA in an effort to make that determination.

So far, 27 remains have been exhumed, with 22 analyzed for DNA extraction.

In July, during the test excavations, 2 News spoke to a woman who said these efforts are needed to bring healing and closure.

"It helps us to get a better understanding of and helps us get awareness from the community as well so people will come down and really truly get the history," said Cyndii Cosper the manager of Black Wall Street Tees and Souvenirs.

Oaklawn Cemetery will be closed to the public during this excavation while crews work.

The goal for this round is to re-open and expand the test excavation site from this summer, extend the search in areas west and north of that test site, document makeshift markers found during testing, expose burials in the area and document them, and exhume individuals who fit selective criteria or who appear to be potential massacre victims.

Forensic analysis of exhumed remains will happen on site.

However, Oaklawn isn't the only place on the list of areas to search.

There are still three more sites identified for the city's examination: Newblock Park, an additional area near Newblock Park, and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, formerly Booker T. Washington Cemetery.

The hope is this will eventually bring answers to families who have relatives among the Tulsa Race Massacre victims.

Once this round of excavation is finished, another briefing will be held to share the preliminary findings.


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