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“Oaklawn” documentary depicts Tulsa’s 1921 mass graves search

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor
“Oaklawn” documentary depicts Tulsa’s 1921 mass graves search oaklawn mass graves
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TULSA, Oklahoma – A new locally produced film captures the events surrounding the investigation into the mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre at Oaklawn Cemetery. 

Specifically, it claims to show how “bureaucracy kept descendants, members of Tulsa’s Black community in the dark about events surrounding the investigation,” a press release for the film stated.

“Oaklawn” tells the story behind the public meetings and comments about the investigation into the search of the unmarked graves stemming from the Race Massacre. It highlights the bureaucratic hurdles through the knowledge and experiences of descendants and members of the Public Oversight Committee. 

The Public Oversight Committee was created as part of the City of Tulsa’s 1921 Graves Investigation to ensure transparency and accountability, according to city officials. The committee was made up largely of descendants of the massacre and leaders within Tulsa’s Black community. 

Yet, members of the Committee have been outspoken about being left out of major decisions by the city. This film reveals their experience and is told in their voices. 

“They said we were the oversight Committee but we really are the out-of-sight committee,” said State Rep. Regina Goodwin. 

Oaklawn documentary paints a different picture than what city portrays

Goodwin’s frustrations were felt by many in the Committee, who believed there was inconsistent communication and conflict with many of their wishes by officials. 

More broadly, the film delves into the injustices that Black Americans face each day through inequities in all facets of life, including government and policing.  

Whitney Chapman is Co-Founder of the Center for Public Secrets, which created and produced the film.

“When we heard about what was going on behind the scenes with the City and the Public Oversight Committee for the Mass Graves Investigation it was something the Center believed Tulsa deserves to know, and importantly that is was told by the people that experienced it,” Chapman told The Black Wall Street Times.

Chapman and descendants of Massacre survivors who sit on the oversight committee are accusing the city of going back on its promise to provide transparency during the 1921 mass graves investigation.

Recently, the city has allegedly removed a series of Facebook posts relating to findings from the investigation. At the same time, it’s fighting against a lawsuit seeking restitution for the 100-year old crime. As of Monday afternoon, the posts appeared to be restored.

“The City continues to dismiss the input or simply leave out the Greenwood community when making decisions about Greenwood.  We want people to see this for themselves so they can engage in making Tulsa a place where voices are heard, and all Tulsans can thrive equality,” Chapman said.

Documentary to premiere at Center for Public Secrets

Notably, many in the Greenwood community have blasted the city for seeking DNA to identify relatives of the deceased without providing privacy protections.

“The bodies must be identified, so their ancestors  can finally know what happened to their family member and give them the burial they deserve.  That being said, I understand the DNA database for those looking for their ancestors was created with no privacy protections, and that has to be amended,” Chapman said.

“Oaklawn” will premiere at the Center for Public Secrets, located at 573 S. Peoria Ave., during a special event for a select group of guests on Friday, Nov. 11. The event will feature a panel discussion and exhibit and other experiential components. Members of the public are invited to attend a screening the next day, Saturday, Nov. 12, also held at the Center for Public Secrets. A suggested donation of $25 is encouraged for the public screening, which is limited to 50 people. 

The documentary film will premiere at Circle Cinema on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. and play every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. through the end of the year. 

The film’s release comes as the City of Tulsa announced that officials will once again begin excavation field work at Oaklawn Cemetery. The original excavation was abruptly terminated in June 2021 after the discovery of a single gunshot victim.

To register for the premiere, click here.

2 comments

michael babb November 7, 2022 - 7:15 pm

Great article. Keep exposing the truth, No more what.

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Tulsa Race Massacre survivor “Mother” Randle turns 108 years old November 10, 2022 - 12:11 pm

[…] Saturday, Nov. 12, Tulsa’s Circle Cinema will premiere a documentary titled “Oaklawn,” which contains interviews from descendants and members of the oversight […]

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