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1921 Graves Investigation

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“The only way to move forward in our work to bring about reconciliation in Tulsa is by seeking the truth honestly. As we open this investigation 99 years later, there are both unknowns and truths to uncover. But we are committed to exploring what happened in 1921 through a collective and transparent process - filling gaps in our city’s history, and providing healing and justice to our community."

– Mayor G.T. Bynum


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1921 Graves Update - June 25, 2021

The City of Tulsa and archeology experts announced that the first phase of the 1921 Graves Investigation at Oaklawn Cemetery is now complete, which consists of the archeological exhumation and fieldwork.  Read more...



You can view past presentations and Public Oversight Committee meeting videos online.


Overview

In 2018, Mayor G.T. Bynum announced the City of Tulsa would reexamine the potential of graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre as identified in the 2001 State commissioned report. Four sites were identified in the City’s examination: Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park, an additional area near Newblock Park, and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, formerly Booker T. Washington Cemetery. The City established three goals around the reexamination, including: public oversight, historical context and the physical evidence investigation.

A Public Oversight Committee was established to ensure transparency and community engagement throughout the investigation. The Committee serves in an advisory capacity to the City during key decisions throughout the investigation. The Oversight Committee is comprised of descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre and leaders in Tulsa’s African-American community. A team of historians and scholars were also assembled to provide historical context for the work being accomplished and document the significance of this important work.

The physical evidence investigation was organized into two phases. The first phase was led by the State of Oklahoma Archaeological Survey through the use of ground penetrating radar, which has been used at Oaklawn Cemetery and Newblock Park. Radar showed stronger evidence of anomalies at two areas of Oaklawn Cemetery, specifically the Sexton area and the Original 18 site.  

After no evidence of human remains were found in the City’s first test excavation in the Sexton area at Oaklawn Cemetery in July 2020,  at least 12 coffins were found in the Original 18 site in October 2020, which is located adjacent to two 1921 Race Massacre headstones in the historical African American section of the Potters Field.

Since the discovery of those remains, the City has met extensively with the Public Oversight Committee to determine next steps. On June 1, 2021, the City and its partners at the University of Oklahoma will start the exhumation process, which could take several weeks to several months.  

If the City finds mass graves that can be directly associated with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the City of Tulsa with the help of the Public Oversight Committee, must determine next steps as it relates to storing remains, DNA testing and genealogical research, and commemorating the gravesites and honoring the remains.

 


Media Share: Photos & Video

No courtesy is needed when using pictures, video and drone footage, from the test excavations at Oaklawn Cemetery.

Oaklawn Cemetery: Sexton Test Excavation

  July 13 - 16, 2020
  July 17 - July 22, 2020

 

Oaklawn Cemetery: Original 18 and Clyde Eddy Test Excavation

  October 19 - 20, 2020
  October 21 - 22, 2020

Oaklawn Cemetery: Original 18

June 1 - 4, 2021
June 7-14, 2021

Rolling Oaks Cemetery (Booker T. Washington Cemetery)

June 14, 2021

Oaklawn Cemetery: Reburial

July 30, 2021