City At Standstill With Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens Cemetery In Search For Possible Mass Graves


Monday, March 2nd 2020, 11:56 pm
By: Amy Slanchik


At a Public Oversight Committee meeting Monday, it was announced the city has not reached an agreement with Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens Cemetery for archaeologists to search for possible mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Reverend Robert Turner from the historic Vernon AME Church raised his voice at the meeting, upset over the news that no official agreement has been made to move forward.

"In every meeting we that close. The next meeting, we this close. The next meeting, we this close. And nothing is done,” Turner said.

Turner spoke for several minutes and laid on the ground at Rudisill Regional Library while expressing his concerns.

Public Oversight Committee Chair Brenda Alford voiced her thoughts, too.

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am,” Alford said.

Mayor G.T. Bynum's office said agreements between the city, OU and Rolling Oaks were ready February 25th, but the city has yet to receive a signature from the cemetery's owner.

Still, the city said it is making plans to move forward, and leaders hope archaeologists can search the cemetery in the beginning of April.

"We’re keeping all of our legal options are on the table,” Bynum said.

While the city weighs its legal options with Rolling Oaks, dates are now set for test excavations at Oaklawn Cemetery.

Archaeologists are interested in an area fenced off at the cemetery, that they said is consistent with a mass grave.

Heavy machinery will be used to start digging top layers of dirt. That work is expected to begin April 1st. Then, archaeologists will excavate by hand.

“They don’t aim for digging as much as possible as quickly as possible. Slow is the game,” State Archaeologist Dr. Kary Stackelbeck said.

The work is expected to take about 10 days and would provide archaeologists with information that would help determine if they should come back and do a bigger excavation in the future.

The cemetery will be closed while the work is being done, with a viewing area set up for the public to watch.

The Muscogee Creek Nation Preservation Office spoke at the meeting about tribal history at Oaklawn. The tribe will have someone at the cemetery during the test excavation to monitor the work being done.

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