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1921 Graves Investigation Update - March 1 , 2022

3/2/2022
This article was archived on 6/10/2022

The Public Oversight Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation met virtually on Tuesday, March 1, to hear the findings from the summer 2021 excavation work at Oaklawn Cemetery, learn more about the team selected to conduct the DNA analysis for that work, and discuss next steps in the investigation.   

The presentation and final report from the 1921 Graves Physical Investigation Committee can be found online at www.cityoftulsa.org/1921Graves. Please note, certain images in the final report have been redacted due to sensitivity and privacy concerns around the showing of human remains. 

“I am grateful for today’s report, and for the recommended next steps from the team of technical experts,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “Based on their recommendation, we will work toward the next steps of this investigation - including further excavation of Oaklawn Cemetery and further analysis of Newblock Park and the ‘Canes’ site.”

“The City of Tulsa will need to solicit bids for the work to be done in order to determine the necessary budget for the next stage of this investigation,” Bynum added. “As I have said at each step of this investigation, we will follow the truth wherever it leads.” 

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma - Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) and the 1921 Graves Physical Investigation Committee presented their findings from the fieldwork, a summary of which is as follows:

Key recommendations moving forward in the 1921 Graves Investigation include:

  1. Conducting a systematic enlargement of the excavation area in the Potter’s Field/Original 18 site at Oaklawn Cemetery that focuses on exhuming simple-coffin, black male burials. The timeline for this has yet to be determined.
    1. Background: In the summer of 2021, archaeologists exhumed multiple burials in this area, 19 of which were transferred to the on-site osteology lab for initial analysis. Fourteen of those remains are being used in the DNA Analysis work scheduled to begin this month (see “DNA RFP” paragraph below).
  1. Conduct a geoarchaeological survey at the Canes site and at Newblock Park. Work will consist of sediment coring, a technique used to discover evidence of past land use. The timeline for this also has yet to be determined.

    1. Background: Both the Canes site and Newblock Park have been identified through oral histories as other possible sites that could contain burials from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Since the start of the 1921 Graves Investigation, scanning of these areas through remote sensing measures has occurred. In a December 16, 2019, presentation to the Public Oversight Committee, the University of Oklahoma - Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) presented findings from the geophysical survey work at these two sites. The survey work at Newblock Park indicated there was a lot of ground disturbance at the site, though no burials were thought to be present. And survey work at The Canes site indicated there were two possible common burials located there.  

DNA Analysis
As part of the investigation, the City of Tulsa sought an entity to provide DNA analysis and identification of human remains disinterred in summer 2021 as part of the 1921 Graves Investigation.  

An RFP was issued for the work, which received six applications and was reviewed by a selection panel consisting of City of Tulsa Deputy Mayor Cassia Carr, City of Tulsa Deputy Chief of Staff Rodrigo Rojas, Dr. Kary Stackelbeck, Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, 1921 Graves Public Oversight Committee Chair Kavin Ross, and 1921 Graves Public Oversight Committee Member Michael Reed. The selection panel conducted interviews and ultimately recommended Utah Cold Case Coalition Intermountain Forensics to be awarded the project.  

DNA analysis work will begin this month on all 14 individuals from the 2021 excavation work. Initial work is expected to take several months. The Intermountain Forensics team will provide an array of services, including:

DNA Analysis: Get Involved 
Utah Cold Case Coalition Intermountain Forensics is seeking DNA help from anyone who may have relatives from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. For those who want to get involved who have family ties to the massacre, email info@intermountainforensics.com and enter the subject line “1921 Graves.”