Search for Tulsa Race Massacre victims starts again

TULSA, Okla — Efforts to find victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre started again at Oaklawn Cemetery on Wednesday.

“This is a long-term commitment from the City of Tulsa,” said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.

Archaeologists believe this is a mass grave from the massacre. During the first excavation last year, crews recovered the remains of at least 19 people believed to be victims of the killings.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and the leaders of the efforts at Oaklawn held a news conference Wednesday morning to explain the next steps in the process.

Mayor G.T. Bynum says Oaklawn is the only site in the city that records and news reports point to as a burial ground for massacre victims.

“There needs to be some dignity placed on these forgotten folks,” said Kavin Ross, Chairman of the 1921 Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee.

He says he’s been researching the history of the massacre long before this process started, and wants peace and closure for the victims’ families.

“After talking to a number of the survivors over the years, one of the biggest anguishes is that loved ones that they knew they never saw again after ’21,” said Ross. “They always wondered if they could be buried out here or other places as well.”

Ahead of the dig Wednesday, National Geographic Live visited the University of Tulsa on Tuesday to host a talk, spotlighting a TU archeology professor who recently discovered her connection to this history.

“I came into this sort of late. Just waking up to the fact that we had ancestors that were part of a story that are connected to us and I didn’t know that fore a very long time that was connected to this history,” said Dr. Alicia Odewale University of Tulsa assistant professor of anthropology.

She says archaeology can help us understand more of aftermath of the massacre.

“There’s cycles of history that need to be uncovered and now we are doing archeology to try to uncover these cycles of history beyond just 1921,” Odewale said.

As the construction equipment, researchers and archeologists once again stage at Oaklawn Cemetery, the city says they’re looking for more victims of the massacre.

“Oaklawn is one site within the city where we have actual records and news reports where we know that there are race massacre victims buried in Oaklawn Cemetery,” Bynum said.

After the first excavation last summer, the city uncovered 19 bodies. Wednesday, they started the process of re-exhuming some individuals to collect more DNA samples. Then they’ll expand the search south and west of the current site.

“Each step along the way we have learned more than we did before and we know tremendously more information today than we did previously,” said Kary Stackelbeck, State Archeologist for the state of Oklahoma.

Ross says he’ll see this process to the very end.

“Maybe some of the ghosts that haunt the city will go away and somehow make us a better city,” said Ross. “We’re on our way. We still have some hills to climb, but I think we’re on our way.”

The dig is expected to be completed by Nov. 18.

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