Public Oversight Committee In Tulsa Mass Graves Investigation Struggles To Agree On Path Forward

The Public Oversight Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation is split on how to move forward with examining the human remains found at Oaklawn Cemetery last year. 

Tuesday, February 23rd 2021, 9:39 pm



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The Public Oversight Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation is split on how to move forward with examining the human remains found at Oaklawn Cemetery last year. 

In order to move forward with the plan to study the remains this summer, the city said a proposal to the Oklahoma State Health Department needs to be submitted in March, so contracts can be drawn up, more experts can be hired, and plans can be finalized. 

Scientists said the summer weather is optimal for the work, and that is when most of the team would be available. Before remains are removed from the cemetery, the state requires a plan for where to put the remains once the research is done. 

Some of the committee members said in Tuesday's virtual meeting that they are OK with temporarily putting the remains back at Oaklawn Cemetery, while it is determined whether they are connected to the massacre, and while a permanent reburial site is chosen. 

“If we assign a temporary burial, temporary interment, that gives us the opportunity, and the freedom of time, a little bit, to really do this legitimately and properly,” Greg Robinson with the MET Cares Foundation, said. “I would be much more in favor of if we need to get a decision at hand, then it be a temporary burial decision.”   

“I’m fine as a temporary spot for Oaklawn so it won’t hold up the process,” Kavin Ross with Greenwood Tribute said. “I don’t want anything to prevent – if we’re going to have all our experts and scientists at one given time, as early as possible, so we can find more detail, I like that version too. But I do not like the rush for a permanent [resting place].”   

Other members of the committee are not ready to move forward and want more time to plan where to put the remains. 

“We’ve already waited 100 years for justice, what’s another year? Time becomes irrelevant after that. You got people who lived that long, who experienced this and who have missing friends and family. So, I think we need to do this in the most respectful, most dignified manner for not only the ancestors but those living survivors who know of people who went missing. And I think that’s a responsibility, and as a descendant I think it’s a right,” Chief Egunwale Amusan with the African Ancestral Society of Tulsa, said.  

State Representative Regina Goodwin and activist and Kristi Williams also expressed during the meeting that they would like more time. 

“I would opt for more time, because I think it deserves more time, but that’s just me,” Goodwin said.  

The Public Oversight Committee met with the city and experts for almost two hours Tuesday evening, with no decision made, and a push to next month to continue discussing. Of the 23 members on the committee, only a handful were on the virtual call. 

Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum called parts of the discussion unproductive and proposed having a vote at the next meeting with all members of the committee. 

Anthropologist Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield explained what could happen if the group does not move forward soon. 

"If we put this off, we may literally lose a whole year. A whole ‘nother year. It won't be winter or October. It'll be this time next year in 2022,” she said. “And none of us are getting younger. The funding may not stay. I don't know what the future will hold. We're talking a year,” Stubblefield said.  

The city also announced that the Public Oversight Committee Chair, Brenda Alford, who is a descendant of several race massacre survivors, had to step down from her role as chair, but will still serve as a member. A new chair has not been named. 

The next Public Oversight Committee meeting will take place in March. A date has not been set yet.  

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