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Tulsa Mass Graves Excavation Postponed over COVID-19 Threat

City of Tulsa

A test excavation in Tulsa's search for mass graves from the 1921 race massacre has been postponed because of the COVID-19 threat.

OU archaeologists were set to explore a section of Oaklawn Cemetery starting April first, but that has been postponed indefinitely.

City officials say the work will happen once the pandemic threat has passed, as will additional above-ground scanning at Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens. The city said the owner has signed an agreement with OU for the investigation after a months-long holdout.

The plan at Oaklawn is to carefully remove the top 2 feet of soil from an 8-foot by 10-foot area with machinery, then continue the excavation by hand. Surveying work showed anomalies in the southwest corner of the cemetery consistent with mass graves.

The whole process is expected to take around 10 days. Oaklawn Cemetery will be completely closed during the work, but a public viewing area will be set up along the adjacent trail, and trained observers will be present throughout the process.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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