Posted on July 24, 2020

Tulsa’s First Dig for Suspected Mass Graves from 1921 Massacre of Black People Finds No Human Remains

DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post, July 22, 2020

Tulsa’s first dig for suspected mass graves from a century-old massacre of black people did not uncover human remains, city officials announced Wednesday. But they plan to expand the search to other areas of Oaklawn Cemetery, the city-owned graveyard where anomalies were detected last year by ground-penetrating radar.


The test excavation by archaeologists found debris and artifacts, some of which may date back to the 1920s. Archaeologists also found a bullet, two pairs of shoes and a buried road.

“At this point, we believe we have fully investigated this anomaly, and unfortunately we have not discovered the evidence of race massacre victims we were hoping to find,” said Kary Stackelbeck, Oklahoma’s state archaeologist. “But we have learned a great deal about the cemetery itself, and this is information we can carry forward as we investigate future sites.”

Although the scientists said their radar findings are promising, the only way to determine precisely what lies beneath the ground is to dig. The initial excavation began July 13 after being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Ellsworth, chair of the physical investigation committee, said the team remains committed to exploring every lead. “Nothing about uncovering the race massacre has been easy,” said Ellsworth, author of “Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.” “We have other sites. We’re ready to go.”


The city also plans to search “The Canes,” an area near the Arkansas River. “At The Canes, two anomalies were found that are believed to be consistent with potential graves in the northwestern corner of the survey area,” the city said. “This site remains a candidate for test excavation efforts in the future.”

The city said it would search Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, formerly known as Booker T. Washington Cemetery. “Interest comes from multiple oral historical accounts from race massacre survivors and descendants,” the city said.