News

Mass grave excavation planned while community frustration boils over Rolling Oaks

Published 03/03/2020 | Reading Time 3 min 21 sec

By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, director, and executive editor

TULSA, Okla. — A few months and a year shy the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and archaeologists will finally excavate one of the possible mass grave sites presumed to hold some of its 300 murdered and lynched victims. Their bodies believed to be scattered in mass graves throughout the city with generational stories that narrate truckloads of black corpses dumped into human-dug trenches within the Oak Lawn Cemetery’s colored section.

The Public Oversight Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation reconvened at the Rudisill Regional Library on the first Monday of March 2020 to update the community on the archaeologist’s investigative progress and future process.

The Committee announced that on Wednesday, April 1, 2020, scientists from the University of Oklahoma would perform the first test excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery, where the Oklahoma Archaeological Survery found a large anomaly estimated to be a 25-by-30 foot area consistent with a mass grave.

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According to the City of Tulsa, the Cemetery will close to the public during the excavation process. Photography and filming of human remains will be prohibited; furthermore, overhead cameras and drones are strictly forbidden, and a tent will be placed over the excavation site.

A public viewing area will be available beside the jogging and bike trail outside the gated-area located west of the test site.

The Public Oversight Committee informed the attendees that the Oversight Committee would not reconvene until Monday, May 4, 2020; that’s when the OU scientist will reveal their findings and geophysical work publically.

Skepticism directed at the City of Tulsa from Black community leaders prevails as the social temperature. Black community leaders who notably sit on the Public Oversight Committee have waited patiently for the City of Tulsa’s ongoing talks with the owner of Rolling Oaks Cemetery, another possible mass gravesite.

A single signature from the property owner remains the only roadblock to the scientist surveying and possibly finding another anomaly with missing victims at that location.

“This is terrible. This is beyond laughable. This is just sheer incompetence. We have been demanding, we’ve asked, we’ve pleaded since August of last year,” Dr. Pastor Robert Turner of the historic Vernon Chapel AME Church declared.

“Since August of last year, we have asked your office, Mr. Mayor, to go and look into whatever we need to do to gain access to the old Booker T. Cemetary. Every meeting, every meeting! ‘We got it’ or ‘We gon’ get.’ The next meeting ‘Oh, we got it’ or ‘we gon’ get.’ The last meeting, ‘we got the agreement. I got the email. We gon’ get it signed.’ Today, March 2, no agreement. How stupid do you think we are?” Pastor Turner frustratedly said as he stood and addressed the crowded room amid a slew of media — standing on the sides and back of the room.

Pastor Turner continued, “Do I look that stupid, Mr. Mayor? Time and time again, we do the same thing. Meanwhile, bodies are lying in the ground.” The 6 foot 5 Black Pastor than physically laid himself on the ground in front of the room with cameras clicking, and repeated, “Meanwhile, people are lying in the ground,” adding “in this city — dead, decade. And you are still playing politics.”

Pastor Turner, as well as other community leaders and members, have been fustrated and are of the view that the City of Tulsa hasn’t visibly functioned with a sense of urgency since Mayor G.T. Bynum declared the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre a murder investigation.

To make matters worse: more issues seemingly fanned the flames further, fustrating Black community leaders. A Creek Indigenous Tribe spokesperson stepped on to the stage and announced that the Tribe would be sending a representative to oversee the excavation process because a Creek burial site is rumored to be located within 200 feet of the dig site.

Black community leaders and members fear that should Creek artifacts be found that it may impede or stall the process of finding 1921 Tulsa Race massacre victims.

Orisabiyi Williams, who resides as chair of the city’s Greater Tulsa African American Affairs Commission, educated the spokesperson on the complex history of how indigenous Creek people enslaved Africans; moreover, how they amalgamated the two races, creating Freedmen — a mixed-race people — then later disenfranchised the Freedmen from resources allotted to the Tribe by the federal government.

“I am a direct descendent of a Creek Freedman,” Williams stated. “Jesse Franklin, my great grandfather, represented the Canadian colored town from 1867 to 1875. In 1874 my grandfather was appointed to judge. He was the first African-Creek judge within the Creek Nation,” she said.

The intersection of Afro-Creek people may further complicate the excavation process because many Black families living within the Greenwood District during the time of the massacre and even to this day proudly display and claim their Creek American heritage, meaning they may have been massacred while wearing jewelry or clothing familiar with Creek American culture, which may confuse the Creek representative sent to oversee the process.


Nehemiah FrankNehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, a digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.

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