Plans Move Forward In Search For Possible Mass Grave At Oaklawn Cemetery

Monday, February 3rd 2020, 5:39 pm
By: Amy Slanchik

The Oklahoma Archeological Survey proposed a plan Monday for test excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery, in an effort to find a possible mass grave from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.  

The plan is to take a closer look at the fenced-off area at Oaklawn Cemetery, where archeologists said there is a 25-by-30-foot pit they are interested in. 

The testing will be done in an 8-by-8-foot area near the center at the base of the anomaly. The plan is to use a machine to take off layers of dirt. The rest of the work will be done by hand.

The goal is to get more information about what is underground, before possibly doing a larger excavation. Archaeologists announced in December the 25-by-30 foot area looks like a human-dug pit that could potentially be associated with the massacre.

Dr. Kary Stackelbeck with the Oklahoma Archeological Survey explained to a crowd at Rudisill Regional Library Monday night, archeologists need more information.

“What the geophysical data did not tell us is whether there are people in there. How many people would be in there? If they’re buried in coffins,” Stackelbeck said.

Using a machine to lift dirt out of the ground could take a day or two. The work done by hand could take another four to eight days.

If human remains are found, experts will then work to determine if the people died from the Race Massacre, or from something else, like the Spanish flu outbreak, which happened a couple of years earlier.

"It doesn't tell us about the people. And that's what we need to get some more information about,” Stackelbeck said.

The plan is for the test excavation to be done as soon as April, but may be delayed until a new fiscal year begins in July. Several people who would be involved in the work would need to travel to Tulsa.

"That’s also why we’re asking for patience,” Stackelbeck said. “I know that this is not probably what people would rather be doing and talking about at this point. But we do firmly believe that it helps those next steps, to know that we’re in the right place first.”

The search at Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens Cemetery has not happened yet. The city has said for months it is in discussions with the owner. Monday night, the city announced the owner plans to sign an agreement with OU archeologists for searching to be done there.

A date for when that search will begin has not been announced.

The next Public Oversight Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 2nd at 5:30 p.m. at Rudisill Regional Library.