Excavation Complete: Archaeologists Study Remains Found At Oaklawn Cemetery

Archaeologists have been searching for possible victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre at Oaklawn Cemetary. This phase of the search is done for now while researchers study what they've found.

Friday, September 29th 2023, 8:06 pm


The City of Tulsa completed a third phase of excavation work at Oaklawn Cemetery, identifying 57 unmarked graves and exhuming 7 sets of remains considered possibly tied to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

The 7th exhumation, Friday afternoon, could be the last one, pending decisions about what to do next. The team studying the cemetery and the remains will write a report with their conclusions and recommendations about the next steps, according to Dr. Kary Stacklebeck, the OU Archaeologist directing the excavation.

Researchers say the burials they’ve uncovered in this phase were in basic wooden caskets, like what they speculate would have been used during hurried burials, and the remains were in worse condition than in their previous work.

“The bones are much more fragile. We're able to get a lot less information from direct examination. It will require DNA analysis,” said Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, the lead Forensic Anthropologist on the team.

The search has focused on the Southwest corner of Oaklawn, in the area known to be where the poor were buried.

57 unmarked graves were found, including the seven graves exhumed. Two marked graves were also examined.

“We've been recording those all along the way. We have mapping equipment that lets us pinpoint the location of each one of those, so we've been recording those and tagging those so they can get returned or replaced,” Dr Stackelbeck said.

She said once the remains have been studied, they’ll be re-interred at the site.

The exhumation Friday was handled as they all have been, with the remains placed in a box, then hand carried across the cemetery to an on-site forensic lab.

Lately, the remains have been draped with a Tulsa flag.

The team, hired by the city, continues to investigate DNA and genealogy to try and connect the dead with the living.

The solemn ceremonies to remove the dead for more study come without any certainty they're connected to the massacre.

The goal for the city is to make the best determination it can and connect the dead to the living, if possible.

“If we can give our family members and neighbors the opportunity to connect with their family members,” said descendant Brenda Nails-Alford, “through DNA and otherwise, give them the opportunity to have a memorial, and give them the respect they deserve,” that’s the goal, she said.

The cemetery will reopen to the public on Monday.

Story Timeline: Archaeologists Find At Least 7 Grave Shafts So Far In Latest Excavation

Archaeologists looking for victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre at Oaklawn Cemetery found about 30 makeshift markers last week.

On Friday, September 8, The City of Tulsa said archaeologists found seven grave shafts and 3 partial grave shafts. Their focus is near the "Clyde Eddy" area. Eddy was 10 years old when he witnessed digging in this area of the cemetery and saw black victims in several wooden crates. 

Related: Third Excavation In Oaklawn Starts In Ongoing Search For Race Massacre Victims

Archaeologists said they found 27 markers in four parallel rows and part of a fifth. Those markers include 16 bricks standing upright in the ground, 10 metal markers, and another made of stone. 

Dr. Kary Stackelbeck said they are all placed about three feet apart. 

“That’s what we’re in the process of doing today, is cutting our deeper trenches so that we can get down to a level and expose whether or not we have grave shafts directly in line that correlate with those markers,” she said. 

Stackelbeck said while the team works, the late Kavin Ross is on everyone's mind. He served as the Chair of the Public Oversight Committee for the investigation and was on the ground, working side-by-side with archaeologists every step of the way. 

“This latest location that we’re investigating now – we’re here in part because some of the information that he helped to provide to us that really helped us make a solid argument for why we felt like this was a good candidate for additional investigation,” Stackelbeck said. “So, and he has a legacy that just can’t be overstated.” 

The rest of the team, including those who work in the forensic lab, will be in Tulsa next week. Scientists expect to be out here for the rest of the month. 


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