One of the trucks used for gathering black victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
- Multiple eyewitnesses, written, and oral accounts of unmarked mass graves located in and around Tulsa.
- Ground-penetrating-radar scanning to begin next week on unmarked possible mass graves of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre’s black victims.
- Mayor plans to treat the investigation as a homicide first.
Published 06/28/19 | Reading Time 2 min 57 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder & editor-in-chief
TULSA, Okla. — Carolyn Prewitt, an elderly white woman — her hair grayed by the wisdom from her life experiences, approached the microphone with the assistance of her walker and a family member. She recounted a story of the time her mother shared with her an eyewitness account in the filling of a mass grave in Oak Lawn Cemetery of black deceased victims from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
“My mother peeked out and she saw them, the truckloads of black people, and she saw them dump them into a common grave at the cemetery,” Prewitt tearfully said into the mic in her elderly voice.
On Thursday evening of June 27, 2019, Prewitt and other Tulsans gathered at the 36 Street North Event Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the city’s first public meeting on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Investigation.
Last year, Mayor GT Bynum announced that the City of Tulsa would open an investigation that would examine the possibility of mass graves in and around Tulsa.
In June of 2019, Tulsa city councilors voted unanimously to allocate a portion of the city’s budget to the mass grave investigation.
Some citizens wondered why an investigation had taken nearly a century to begin.
“We presented our findings to the last mayor [Dewey F. Bartlett, Jr.], and nothing happened,” Mayor Bynum explained and added, “To wait for 98-years instead of doing it right after the massacre occurred, the city hasn’t earned trust.”
Tulsa City Councilor for District 1, Vanessa Hall-Harper said, “It’s important to me that we move forward in this investigation with the highest level of transparency.” The City of Tulsa has assembled a 1921 Race Massacre Graves Public Oversight Committee for transparency purposes.
A report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, on page 87, indicates, with written evidence that includes funeral home records, that black massacre victims are buried at Oak Lawn Cemetery in an unmarked area. Now, Prewitt’s mother’s account further corroborates passed eyewitnesses claims in the report.
One of several black internment camps during the race massacre; truck with black massacre victim.
Eddie Faye Gates’ account of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
“When we got to Greenwood, we met up with a lot more black people who were running trying to find a safe place. We ran into a couple — the man was one of [her husband’s] best friends. The wife had just had a baby that had died at birth. She had put it in a shoe box and was waiting until morning to bury it when the riot broke out. Well durin’ all that runnin’ and pushin’ and shovin’ when black people were trying to get safely away from the riot, that po’ little baby got lost! Everybody was just runnin’ and bumpin’ into each other. They never did find that child.”
According to information in the Stanley McCune mortuary records, sometime on June 1, police brought in the body of a newborn infant. It had been found in Greenwood earlier in the day by two white men who turned it over to the police. The body was described as that of a black male measuring “less than twelve inches long.” It apparently bore no signs of trauma and was signed out as a stillborn. Like many of the other black victims, it was buried in Oaklawn Cemetery. The evidence seems compelling that the baby lost by its fleeing mother and that brought to the mortuary were one and the same. This case is important for two reasons. First, the story of this tiny victim provides a poignant glimpse of the madness that prevailed on that terrible day. Second, this infant is the only one of the thirty-nine known victims that did not die of gunshot wounds and/or burns.
Other oral sources point to additional, possible unmarked mass grave locations: Newblock Park, along Charles Page Boulevard, and the historic Booker T. Washington Cemetery (located in south Tulsa). The committee foresees additional areas to be added to the list of potential sites that will need to be scanned and Crown Hill Cemetery (located in north Tulsa) in north Tulsa is the latest to be considered.
Mike McConnell points to a possible mass grave location
Mike McConnell, the groundkeeper at Crown Hill Cemetery, told the Black Wall Street Times that the late Grant Hastings, a white man whose family owned Crown Hill Cemetary for two generations and during the ’21 massacre, told McConnell that there are multiple mass grave locations on the north side of Crown Hill full of black victims from the 1921 Tulsa Race massacre and that some of the cremated victims’ remains are also at Crown Hill.
C.J. Neal, a local Tulsan and photographer for the historic Oklahoma Eagle newspaper, told the committee and audience that his great grandfather was recruited to bury black bodies of the massacre victims. Neal said that his grandfather was light-skinned enough to pass as non-black and on account that was chosen to do the dirty work of burying Tulsa’s sin at one of the mass grave locations.
Neal shared a chilling testimony of his family’s oral history:
“Because he was considered to be Native American, [he] was told: ‘Don’t you tell anybody boy, cause we know where you are’.” Neal explained, to the committee members and onlookers, the unsettling oral history that had been passed down through his family.
An unidentifiable black man who was lynched and burned during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Amy Brown, the Deputy Mayor for the City of Tulsa, said a team of experts would soon be arriving in Tulsa to conduct a ground-penetrating radar scan for unmarked mass graves. The technology is capable of detecting as deep as 8 meters into the ground.
“Our goal, really, is to identify the areas to be scanned, to bring the team back, actually, conduct the ground penetrating radar and have the technical team report back to the public oversight committee.
If the public oversight committee feels that it’s the right thing for Tulsa to do an excavation, the next step is that we would obtain permits from the state, and we would engage the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The reason for that is that the chief medical examiner has primary jurisdiction over human remains of any person of interest and that doesn’t expire with time. We would look to the Chief Medical Examiner to treat this like a homicide investigation. If the chief medical examiner decided to decline jurisdiction, then, the jurisdiction of the investigation would go to the archeologists,” Deputy Mayor Brown said.
The Public Oversight Committee is seeking feedback regarding the process of the investigation and what the community would like to accomplish from the investigation. The feedback form will close on Monday, July 8, 2019, and the form can be found online.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, blogger for EdPost, and Community Advisory Board Member for the Tulsa World.