Archaeologists Identify Locations That Need A Closer Look In Search For Mass Graves

Tuesday, December 17th 2019, 12:16 am
By: Amy Slanchik

The Oklahoma Archaeological Survey presented its mass grave search findings Monday to the Public Oversight Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation.

Senior Researcher Scott Hammerstedt said they found several areas they are interested in learning more about, including a large pit at Oaklawn Cemetery.

In the crowded theater at Carver Middle School, Hammerstedt presented the findings, pointing to several possible graves at Oaklawn Cemetery.

One spot, known as the “Sexton area” in his presentation, could be significant. It's just west of Section 13 and was the first location to be scanned in October.

"This very much looks to be like a human-dug pit of some sort,” he told the committee. “The size of it is very indicative of what could be a common grave associated with the massacre.”

Hammerstedt estimated the pit is about 30-by-25 feet.

He said there are other areas at Oaklawn he'd like to take a second look at, too. He said there are some unmarked graves along the southern boundary. He said there are likely unmarked graves in what’s known as the “original 18 area,” which is next to the southwest corner of the cemetery. Hammerstedt also said a large anomaly from the 1998 survey was not rediscovered.

Aside from Oaklawn, he said he’d like to revisit the homeless encampment just west of downtown along the Arkansas River, known as "The Canes."

He said there are two large anomalies there worth testing.

At Newblock Park, he said the team of archaeologists did not find anything significant for the investigation, noting that there has been a lot of disruption to the land there since 1921.

Cleo Harris was in the crowd. He said he's frustrated, and has some doubt moving forward.

"Even though it's been 98 years, it's still a crime scene. And so, it's very distributing that we're not getting the definitive answers that we deserve,” Harris said.

State Representative Regina Goodwin expressed concern about Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens Cemetery not being searched yet, saying there is a lack of aggression.

“Actually we do have oversight. And actually, if it’s a crime scene, or a potential crime scene, we don’t give deference to the owner of a private facility,” she said.

The city said it is still in discussion with the owner of the site. Mayor G.T. Bynum said if the city needs to pursue a court order to search, it will.

After all the data was presented, Hammerstedt gave the mayor a confident "yes" when asked if it was worth moving forward to a second phase of the investigation.

The city has posted a PowerPoint presentation of the findings online.

February 3rd is the next public oversight meeting, where the next steps of the physical investigation will be developed.

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