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Third excavation underway at Oak Lawn Cemetery

Oak Lawn
Posted at 4:14 PM, Sep 05, 2023

TULSA, Okla. — A third excavation is underway for mass graves connected to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Crews say it's going to be a slow excavation process. Researchers say they plan to be a couple hundred meters from where they worked last spring- just east of U.S. 75 N.

Researchers say they'll continue to be persistent during this search and hope any living descendants will do the same.

"We know there are 18 victims of the Tulsa Race massacre buried in Oak Lawn Cemetery," Mayor GT Bynum said at Tuesday's news conference. "The challenge for us is just finding them."

Persistence by grave researchers, excavators, and Tulsa Race Massacre living decedents could mean answers.

"We're trying to find a needle in a pile of needles," Bynum added. "We're trying to find people who were murdered and buried in a cemetery amidst people that died of natural causes and were buried in the same place."

Thanks to ground penetrating radar, Oklahoma State Archeologist Kary Stackelbeck says excavators found rows of unusual, upright bricks last summer.
"They were spaced out in a manner that is consistent with what you'd otherwise expect with headstones," she said.

Stackelbeck says crews found grave shafts farther down through a test excavation, warranting a more thorough investigation starting next week.

Brenda Alford, a descendant of the Tulsa Race Massacre, has been helping in any way she could.

"It has been absolutely amazing to have this opportunity to learn the processes and procedures that goes into doing this work," Alford said.

Eight remains were removed from Oak Lawn Cemetery last October and November and turned over to forensic anthropologists. Those - coupled with the first excavation in 2021, totaled 22 individuals.

Mayor Bynum also announced another surname affiliated with Burial 17 on Tuesday. The surname is Traylor, stemming from Louisianna and Bowie County, Texas.

Researchers say that each excavation builds upon the last one. They say at the end of the day, their goal is to connect any remains found to living descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

The search plan for next week is in Section 20 of Oak Lawn Cemetery.

Archeologists say it's believed to be where Clyde Eddy, a Tulsa boy, reportedly saw crates of victims being buried in the cemetery two days after the massacre.

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