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Watch Now: Search for 1921 Race Massacre graves to continue with new excavations, committee agrees

Watch Now: Search for 1921 Race Massacre graves to continue with new excavations, committee agrees


Historian Scott Ellsworth (left) and Assistant State Archaeologist Debra Green view on July 16 the graves of Eddie Lockard and Reuben Everett, who were both killed during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, at Oaklawn Cemetery during a test excavation in the search for possible mass graves from the massacre.

After a first excavation found no human remains, investigators will take a closer look next month at two more areas within Tulsa’s historic Oaklawn Cemetery in the search for victims of the 1921 Race Massacre, a public oversight committee agreed Monday evening.

Investigators have labeled one part of the cemetery as the “Original 18 area,” the southwest portion of the cemetery, where old funeral home ledgers suggest that 18 African Americans may have been buried on the day after the massacre.

The area was known to be part of the African American potter’s field at the time, and ground-penetrating radar has found anomalies beneath the surface, similar to the anomalies that inspired investigators to excavate a different part of the cemetery in July.

The previous excavation found no burial sites but uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts from the early to mid-20th century, committee members said. And the excavation gave researchers a better understanding of the cemetery’s geography, which will help them explore the two new areas, the committee was told.

While excavating the Original 18 area, investigators will also take core samples from another location known as the “Clyde Eddy area,” named after an eye witness who was 10 years old at the time and reported seeing crews bury African American bodies there after the massacre.

Ground-penetrating radar found an anomaly in the area, on the south side of the cemetery near 11th Street, that could be an unmarked grave, said Scott Ellsworth, a historian who wrote a book about the massacre, “Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.”

If a core sample finds further evidence of a burial, crews will begin an excavation, Ellsworth said.

“These are individuals who were buried while their loved ones were being held against their will at internment camps,” Ellsworth said. “No prayers were said over them. There were no good-byes. They were just thrown away.”

If the search uncovers human remains in either area, they will be left in place while experts look for clues to their identity and to their causes of death, said Phoebe Stubblefield, a researcher from the University of Florida who is helping orchestrate Tulsa’s search.

“I find it very likely that we will” find human remains, Stubblefield told the committee.

And when they do, investigators will respect the dead, she said, adding that the search could uncover graves that aren’t necessarily linked to the events of 1921.

“No individuals will be removed from any burial site,” she said. “We will be able to expose them enough to collect the evidence we need.”

The oversight committee recommended searching both sites simultaneously by the end of October. City officials said after the meeting that a date for the work would be announced soon.

Meanwhile, investigators remain interested in more sites that could be searched in the future, including “The Canes” area near Newblock Park and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, where officials hope to do geophysical work later this year.

Featured gallery: Timeline: The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Michael Overall


Twitter: @MichaelOverall2

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