City Continues 1921 Graves Investigation at Oaklawn Cemetery with Plans to Begin Third Full Excavation; Site Preparation to Begin Tuesday, Sept. 5
This article was archived on 11/30/2023
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the City will announce plans to start the third excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery as part of the 1921 Graves Investigation.
Site preparation will last a few days, and when complete, the full excavation will start. More information is below about the process so far, along with additional information about this excavation.
- June 2021 – City conducts first full excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery. Excavation work focused on the Section 20 area of Oaklawn Cemetery where 18 known 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims were buried per newspaper reports. Fieldwork concluded in late June, which yielded 35 burials, 34 of whom did not have grave markers. Twenty remains were exhumed, of which 19 were in adequate states for forensic analysis. Each of the 19 remains were sent to the on-site osteology lab.
- Oct./Nov. 2022 – City conducts second full excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery. During this excavation, the excavated area from the June 2021 work was expanded to the west and to the south. These locations were carefully selected after review of the 1000-page report from the previous excavation. During this excavation, additional DNA samples were taken from several of the remains that were exhumed and reinterred from the previous excavation. This excavation yielded 32 more exposed burials, 28 of whom did not have clear grave markers. Eight remains that met the criteria that archaeologists and forensic experts were looking for were exhumed and brought to the on-site osteology lab for analysis.
* Following Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield’s detailed assessments of each of the 27 exhumed burials, 22 remains ultimately made it out of that process between the 2021 and 2022 excavations. Each of those 22 remains were sent to Intermountain Forensics, the laboratory assisting the City with DNA and genealogical analysis. *
- April 12, 2023 – City releases six surnames and locations of interest as identified by Intermountain Forensics, the Utah-based laboratory assisting the City with DNA and genealogical analysis. In April, the City and Intermountain Forensics announced the need for additional participation in the genealogical process, which continues to this day. More information about the surnames and locations of interest can be found at www.cityoftulsa.org/graves. More information about the genealogical process and how to get involved can be found at www.tulsa1921dna.org.
- Spring 2023 – Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) conducts additional geophysical survey work in Section 20 at Oaklawn Cemetery. Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) detected an anomaly in an area devoid of markers or other obvious indications of graves. The anomaly’s location comports well with the general area indicated by Clyde Eddy, who reportedly observed crates with multiple decedents being prepared for burial in Oaklawn Cemetery two days after the Massacre. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) survey data indicated a slight depression in the location compared to the surrounding area.
- July 13 & 14, 2023 – City conducts test excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery. During this test excavation, the Physical Investigation team conducted limited testing in the eastern area adjacent to the original excavation site to help identify the origin of a geophysical anomaly found in Spring 2023.
- September 2023 Excavation – Work conducted during the summer’s test excavation informed the decision to move forward with a third full excavation on Sept. 5. Goals for the excavation include plans to re-open and expand the test excavation block; expose additional areas extending to the west and north of the test excavation block; document makeshift markers that were found in the test excavation; expose burials in the area and document them in a manner consistent with previous excavations in the southwestern portion of the cemetery; and exhume those individuals who fit selective criteria (adult males in simple wooden containers) or who otherwise appear to be potential candidates as Massacre victims (e.g., maintain evidence of trauma, regardless of age and sex). On-site, detailed forensic analysis will be conducted on any exhumed remains during the Sept. 5 excavation. Any remains that move out of that process will be sent to Intermountain Forensics for DNA and genealogical analysis.
Process at Oaklawn Cemetery
Starting Sept. 5, Oaklawn Cemetery will be closed to the public. During the course of their work, experts intend to work daily excluding weekends. Hours may fluctuate based on the weather and daily tasks.
It is important researchers be able to conduct the excavation without interruption. Media interviews will be limited to the two news conferences (more below). The City will work to post field updates as warranted based on findings to the 1921 Graves Facebook page, @1921Graves, and to the shared media drive at www.cityoftulsa.org/1921graves.
At the conclusion of the excavation, experts will host a second news conference to share any preliminary information from the excavation process.
- Photography/video of human remains is strictly prohibited. To ensure no photographs or videos are taken of human remains, a screening fence will be placed around the excavation site.
- During the excavation, Oaklawn Cemetery will be closed to the public.
- Cultural monitors will be on site to view the excavation with the researchers.
- Parking will not be available at Oaklawn Cemetery. On-street parking should be utilized in the nearby residential neighborhood located across 11th St. from the cemetery on S. Norfolk Ave.
- No helicopters, overhead cameras or drones will be allowed (except for the City’s videographer when human remains are not present).
- Photos, video, and drone footage from the City’s videographer will be uploaded to a public shared drive. Anyone can download and use the footage, which can be found at: www.cityoftulsa.org/1921graves
- Individuals are asked to follow cemetery rules while viewing the investigatory work from outside the fence, which includes avoiding playing loud music and keeping the volume of voices down. Children should be accompanied with an adult and pets must be leashed.