Concerns over development near the Rolling Oaks cemetery

Tuesday, June 29th 2004, 4:50 pm
By: News On 6

Members of the Tulsa NAACP gathered at a south Tulsa cemetery Tuesday, claiming that graves have been desecrated by a real estate development.

Some people think that headstones, perhaps even remains were unearthed and moved. As News on 6 reporter Steve Berg explains, the area of concern is just south and west of Rolling Oaks cemetery.

Several Tulsa residents explored the heavily wooded area near 91st and Yale, some of them for the first time, where numerous grave markers can be found. Most appear to date to the 20's and 30's. "If you know you have graves right here with these headstones, you know you're standing on graves, there's graves all over and around."

Not forgotten, but apparently long neglected, the cemetery sits right next to an area which is being cleared for a new subdivision and that's where the controversy has started.

Many think there were other graves like these in the area that was cleared, including none other than Tulsa City Councilman Roscoe Turner. "Over here close to 91st Street, I know there's been some because I came to a funeral and we interred people out here." The lawyer for the landowners says once these markers were found, they hired an archaeologist from the University of Tulsa to search the other land before it was cleared and found no sign of any more graves or remains.

But the group going through the woods Tuesday is unconvinced. "And the state officials, the county, the mayor, whoever wants to choose to ignore this, even thought there's a handful of us out here, we're determined that something will be corrected."

Some believe it's being treated differently because it was a cemetery for black people. "If this had been an Indian burial ground, this would not have happened, and it's not going to happen here either."

It's easy to see how the area might have been overlooked, but the NAACP says now that everybody "does" know it's here, they want to make sure nothing bad happens to it. The developer has deeded this area back to an adjacent cemetery, so it won't be developed. What exactly was in the area though is still in dispute.