Search for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Mass Graves Continues at Oaklawn Cemetery

 Courtesy City of Tulsa
DISCUSSING EXCAVATION WORK: Mayor G.T. Bynum and  Archeologist Kary Stackelbeck from the State of Oklahoma discuss excavation work at Oaklawn Cemetery on Oct. 21.

Ninety-nine years after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, we found a mass grave in Oaklawn Cemetery. 
In October, members from our 1921 Graves Physical Investigation Team unearthed a portion of that cemetery that now gives us a better glimpse into the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Though we can’t tie October’s findings directly to the race massacre, yet, we now have a renewed hope of finding out what happened nearly 100 years ago after 12 coffins were found in October’s test excavation. 
The largest discovery in October’s test excavation was the finding of 11 coffins, all located in a single grave shaft – this is also known as a mass grave. 
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. 
It’s noted the finding of the 11 coffins represents just one-third of the overall anomaly that was detected when we did our geophysical survey work. So though we found 11 coffins in a single grave shaft, we know there is a possibility there could be more. 
Moreover, our team tells me there were even stairs built into the corner of the trench, which is consistent with a single event having happened where someone would have had to build a grave large enough to hold multiple people.
But though multiple people were buried in a single grave shaft, there are still a lot of unknowns after October’s findings. We still don’t know who these victims are, how they died and whether their deaths were a result of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Further investigation and research is needed to help put these puzzle pieces together – an investigation that isn’t a quick one. 
The next steps in our effort to uncover what happened nearly 100 years ago continue. The excavation site has now been covered in protective materials and filled back in until we can safely and legally exhume those remains and get them to a safe environment where they can be studied. When exposed to today’s air after having been underground for so long, these remains are incredibly delicate and we can’t risk their integrity by unearthing them and exposing them to air without a sound plan. 
Upon a judge signing off on our exhumation request, we will then have to find an appropriate time to finish where we left off in October, weather permitting. We expect this process to take several months. 
In the meantime, our search for answers continues. There are still sites with anomalies to be examined, and others to be scanned to see whether anomalies are present that are consistent with a mass grave. I am ever hopeful and confident the work we are doing is important and that we’re on the right track to providing some sense of closure for the families and for Tulsa as we seek the truth of what happened in 1921.