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1921 Graves Investigation Update - October 19, 2022

This article was archived on 1/19/2023

On Oct. 26, the City of Tulsa will begin a second excavation as part of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Investigation at Oaklawn Cemetery, 1133 E. 11th St. The excavation will be led by professionals from Stantec Inc., formerly known as Cardno, the Oklahoma Archeological Survey (OAS), C. A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory (University of Florida), the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) and OU-Department of Anthropology. Moore Funeral Home will also assist in the excavation.  

Following the City’s July 2020 test excavation and the City’s October 2020 discovery of multiple coffins in the Sexton area of Oaklawn Cemetery, the City and its partners conducted a formal excavation in summer 2021, which resulted in 19 exhumations of human remains. Remains were taken to the on-site osteology lab for analysis and 14 remains fit the criteria for further DNA analysis. The remains that were exhumed as part of the process were subsequently re-interred. 

After the first excavation, the City announced the selection of Intermountain Forensics to lead the DNA and genealogy analysis as part of the investigation. From the samples taken at Oaklawn Cemetery, two DNA samples had sufficient amounts of DNA to move forward with further validations and post accreditation testing. Intermountain Forensics will be on site for the upcoming excavation to assist in collecting viable DNA samples. 

In hopes of finding potential unidentified 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims, the City and its partners will first obtain additional DNA sampling from the original excavation remains so Intermountain Forensics can continue their DNA sampling. Next, experts will move near the south and west of the 2021 excavation block to further excavate a new area in Oaklawn Cemetery. The excavation is expected to be complete by Nov. 18. Similar to the first excavation, Oaklawn Cemetery will serve as the temporary re-interment site.   

The City of Tulsa would like to thank the Tulsa Fire Museum for donating their land located near Oaklawn Cemetery so the mobile laboratory and workstation can be setup for artifact processing and laboratory analyses during the excavation.  

Twenty-six death certificates were issued in 1921 for African American victims of the Massacre; 21 of those victims were reportedly buried in Oaklawn Cemetery. Newspaper reports from June 2, 1921, indicate that 18 adult male victims were buried in Oaklawn Cemetery Section 20. This information is the guide the City of Tulsa has been using throughout the excavation process at Oaklawn Cemetery.