TULSA, Okla. — The city of Tulsa will conduct a test excavation at an area cemetery as part of an ongoing effort to find remains of victims of a 1921 race massacre, officials said.
The test excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery, planned for April, was announced during the city’s Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee meeting on Monday, the Tulsa World reported. The meeting came a little more than a month after investigators announced that geophysical surveys conducted in October had found anomalies consistent with possible graves.
“We would see this as an intermediate step,” Kary Stackelbeck, a state archaeologist, said. “If we were to identify evidence that we seem to believe at the time is consistent with race massacre victims, we would want to leave them in a state that allows for us to come back and undertake future investigations and a recovery effort in a more thoughtful and well-planned-out fashion.”
Tulsa's mayor announced in 2018 that the city would re-examine sites in search of victims of the 1921 massacre. The sites were last inspected by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The massacre happened over the course of 16 hours, from May 31 to June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses. As many as 300 people were killed, hundreds more injured and thousands left homeless. Tulsa's prosperous black business district known as Black Wall Street was destroyed.
Stackelbeck said the test excavation at Oaklawn will provide much more detail than the geophysical surveys did.
“With the geophysical data, it doesn’t see bodies,” Stackelbeck said. “It doesn’t tell us who’s down there. It doesn’t tell us, are there people there? And if they are there, are they in coffins?”
City officials also provided an update on its search at Rolling Oaks Cemetery. The city has said that the cemetery’s owners have been reluctant to allow a site identified by historical investigators to be surveyed because it is beneath some known interments. Deputy Mayor Amy Brown said officials are now close to an agreement with the cemetery’s owners.