October 22, 2020 – After four days, the second test excavation for graves from the 1921 Race Massacre at Oaklawn Cemetery concluded. At least 12 coffins holding human remains have been found where anomalies were previously detected. It is still to be determined whether the burials are associated with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, as further efforts to determine the identities of those remains and their causes of death continue to be explored.
“As we seek to find out what happened in 1921 and bring about healing through the work we are doing, I’m hopeful for the future of this work and wherever this process may take us,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “I have a lot of gratitude for our team here at the City, for our 1921 Graves Physical Investigation Team, and for our Public Oversight Committee in their relentless pursuit of the truth. We now know a mass grave at Oaklawn Cemetery exists, and we will continue to work to find out the nature of our findings this week.”
Today, experts further explored the inside of the grave shaft and its perimeter where the coffins are located. As the test excavation comes to an end today, crews are working to finalize the excavation process with additional documentation and photography. To keep the preservation of remains intact, workers will cover the exposed caskets and human remains with protective materials before backfilling the excavated area with dirt. Backfilling is expected to be completed today.
Experts say the preservation level for the remains is less than ideal and they do not want the integrity of the remains to be compromised. Due to the soil conditions and level of bone preservation, experts did not expose the remains so they can be fully excavated and analyzed. Experts will file for required excavation permits based upon the information obtained through this test excavation and resume once grants are permitted and weather conditions allow. This is expected to be in 2021.
The area where remains were found has been previously referenced as the Original 18 site, located adjacent to two 1921 race massacre headstones in the historical African American section of the Potters Field. Funeral home records and other documents for 1921 show that at least 18 identified and unidentified African American massacre victims were buried in the City-owned cemetery.
To see the full update from Mayor G.T. Bynum, Kary Stackelbeck, State Archeologist with the State of Oklahoma, and members from the 1921 Graves Physical Investigation Team, visit the 1921 Graves Facebook page, @1921Graves.
The City of Tulsa will announce when additional details are available from the second test excavation and a third excavation is scheduled.
For more information about the 1921 Graves Investigative process and for more updates and photos/videos, visit: www.cityoftulsa.org/1921graves
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