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Burial trench in Oaklawn Cemetery

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By BWSTimes Staff

TULSA, Okla. — Since beginning their excavations on Monday, October 10, 2020, scientists discovered 10 additional coffins in an unmarked mass grave and are possibly days away from solving a 100-year-old mystery to the whereabouts of missing Black victims from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Human remains are currently being unearthed in the area once known as pauper’s field and designated as the colored section of the Oaklawn Cemetery just southeast of downtown. 

“We feel a high degree of confidence that this is in one of the locations that we have been looking for. Although we have to remain cautious because, at this point in time, we have not done anything to expose the human remains beyond those that have been encountered by the process of the initial excavation that we have done to this point in time,” Kary Stackelbeck, an Oklahoma State University archeologist who’s one of the leading scientists on the excavation. 

Pauper’s field is one of three possible locations where oral history and funeral home documents point towards a possible mass grave location. The area in question is within feet from two known 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Black male victims.

Tombstone of Eddie Lockard, a 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victim.

“The first burial that we encountered, associated with anomaly six, we did actually have some of those skeletal elements that they come up in the excavation bucket, and we were able to examine those and also examine the rest of the associated intact burial. Those skeletal remains are not in great condition. They’re not the worst condition that we’ve seen as a team but they’re not the best,” Stackelbeck added 

On Tuesday, October 21, 2020, Phoebe Stubblefield, an anthropologist from the University of Florida and a Black Greenwood descendant, Stackelbeck, and their team found an ‘unmarked’ grave shaft containing a wooden casket with human remains just three feet beneath Earth’s surface.

Subsequent to the findings, members of their team respectfully held up two tarps to keep the human remains from being photographed.

The scientists are currently analyzing their findings to indicate if the deceased’s cause of death was trauma-related from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victim

“We are still in the process of analyzing the remains to the best of our ability and to get a better sense of exactly what’s going on with this particular individual. It does correspond to one of the locations that were picked up on by the geophysical survey work. So that gives us a reason for optimism,” Stackelbeck said during Tuesday’s afternoon press conference at the Tulsa Fire Museum, located just north of the cemetery.

At least 18 Black victims from the massacre are believed to be located within the current excavation location of the Oaklawn Cemetery.

“The oral historical accounts: The original 18 were purportedly put into coffins before they were entered by the funeral home that was contracted to do the work. So finding a coffin is a good sign. But we know that coffins can be associated with other individuals as well,” Stacklebeck added.

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims in caskets

However, another section of the cemetery where additional anomalies were found last summer by ground-penetrating radar will also be excavated.

Kristi Williams, a well known north Tulsa community activist and member of the 1921 Oversight Committee, said, “Our Chairwoman, Mrs. Brenda Alfred of the 1921 Tulsa Mass Graves Oversight Committee was always told that her Great-Grandmother was at Oaklawn in an unmarked grave. My heart broke watching her cry out for her Grandmother this evening.”

Unknown boy with an infant from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Black community members, many of who are descendants of the massacre, believe women and children were also buried in Oaklawn Cemetary, which is indicative of their oral history. Photographs from the massacre indicate that children also fail victim to the widespread violence caused by the angry White mob that killed upwards of 300 Black victims from May 31-June1 1921.

The Black Wall Street Times is a news publication located in Tulsa, Okla. and Atlanta, Ga. At The BWSTimes, we focus on elevating the stories of our beloved Greenwood community, elevating the stories of...