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Search ends for remains of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims

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Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield carries a tray of items found at Oaklawn Cemetery during a test excavation in the search for possible mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)


Published 07/26/2020 | Reading Time 1 min 40 sec 

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The search for remains of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre ended at one location Wednesday with no remains found, but with a promise to continue searching.

Eight days of excavation at Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery has found no indication of bodies at Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery, said Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck.

“We did not find human remains, and we did not find anything indicative of a mass grave,” Stackelbeck said.

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“Unfortunately things did not transpire the way that we hoped that they would at this particular location,” Stackelbeck said. “It is not the location that we were looking for. We do not have indications of a mass grave in this portion of Oaklawn Cemetery.”

The search site was based on a survey by ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies in the soil indicating possible graves in addition to oral historical accounts of bodies buried in a mass grave in the cemetery, Stackelbeck said

On May 31 and June 1 in 1921, white residents looted and burned Tulsa’s black Greenwood District, killing as many as 300 people. Many victims are believed to have been buried in mass graves.

The excavation that began July 13 turned up various artifacts including a shell casing that was determined to be unrelated to the massacre, temporary grave markers not believed to be related to the victims and a pair of shoes that are being examined by investigators as excavators dug three trenches up to 15 feet deep.

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“The research team excavated beneath the shoes and to the sides of the shoes until they hit bedrock, they found no indication of a grave shaft or human remains,” said city spokesperson Michelle Brooks.

Brenda Alford, the granddaughter of two survivors of the massacre and chair of an oversight committee of the search said she had hoped the search would provide answers to families and descendants of victims about the location of their ancestors.

“I still have that hope, I know that we are just at the beginning of a long-term investigation for truth, and that we have a powerful team assembled that will continue that work,” to find the remains, Alford said.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, who in October 2018 announced plans to search for graves of the victims, said the search is a multi-year project that is just beginning.

“Now we know for certain where they aren’t,” and other areas, including one in the same cemetery, a nearby park and a private cemetery will be examined by researchers, Bynum said.

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