Researchers Find Another Burial as Latest Dig for Tulsa Race Massacre Victims Concludes

Oct 22, 2020

Researchers digging at Oaklawn Cemetery in a search for victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre concluded their test excavation work on Thursday.
Credit City of Tulsa

Researchers looking for victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in Oaklawn Cemetery have concluded their work for now.

State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said Thursday on the final day of digging, they found evidence of another burial, so there are at least 12 the team now knows of.

They also figured out the north, south and west boundaries of the larger grave shaft they’re working in. Stackelbeck said the trench they dug appears to cover about one-third of it.

"That, for us, is an important piece of information because that can be an indication that we can utilize the number of individuals that we’ve identified within that grave shaft at this point in time to extrapolate and interpretation of a possible number of individuals that could be overall contained within the larger grave shaft," Stackelbeck said.

Remains discovered so far will be covered with protective fabric and the trench at least partly filled with sand until researchers secure legal permission to exhume the fragile remains in the mass grave. Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield said the identification process will likely begin next year.

"So, we just have to wait a little while longer to get the rest of the circumstances together, because these remains can’t be examined in place in the timeframe we have," Stubblefield said.

Historian Scott Ellsworth said the significance of this week’s discoveries can’t be understated.

"This is the only time any level of American government — municipal, state or county — has ever gone out to search for the hidden remains of racial violence in American history. This is an amazing event that’s happened here in Tulsa, and Tulsa is to be commended and complimented for its leadership here," Ellsworth said. "But the last thing I just want to say is to remember that this search that we began 22 years ago was because the survivors asked us to do it."