TULSA, Okla. — Researchers shared results Monday from ground scanning in the search for mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Members of the public oversight committee met at Carver Middle School to hear the results and ask questions.
The committee identified four places to scan: Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park, Booker T. Washington Cemetery and “the Canes,” a stretch of land by the 11th Street bridge that now serves as a homeless encampment.
Experts said Newblock Park did not show any evidence of anomalies underground related to mass graves.
The Canes area had two large anomalies that could be related to a mass grave, researchers said. Archaeologists want to do additional scanning to get a better idea of what may be buried there.
Oaklawn Cemetery is the most likely candidate for a mass grave site, they said. Archaeologists told the committee their survey shows a very straight, abrupt disturbance that looks like a human-dug pit. This is a very likely candidate to be a mass burial site. Experts said they would like to further explore this area.
The former Booker T. Washington Cemetery (now Rolling Oaks) has still not been scanned because the city is working with the private owner to get permission to survey the area.
An attorney for Rolling Oaks Cemetery released the following statement on Tuesday:
"In response to the report in the Tulsa World this press release is being issued in an attempt to correct the record and the statements of Mayor G.T. Bynum. Mayor Bynum was quoted in the World as saying that it is “embarrassing that [the] owners have not been more cooperative” when referring to the privately owned Rolling Oaks Cemetery. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What the Mayor failed to say in this statement is that the current owner and his legal counsel were contacted by the City in September 2019 requesting a meeting to discuss possible scanning of the site which was formerly known as the Booker T. Washington Cemetery. The meeting took place at City Hall on October 22, 2019. The property owner was not in opposition to the proposed scanning but did express concerns since the proposed area has existing interments which must be considered. The property owner expressed empathy for the committees concerns but also said he must be sensitive to the rights of the families with loved ones buried at Rolling Oaks.
The Mayor also failed to mention that his office was presented with a proposed Agreement which would set forth the framework to allow the scanning to proceed. This Agreement was submitted to the Mayor’s office on November 20, 2019. Counsel for the property owner received no response from the City until December 13, 2019 wherein the City stated they had not received the document although the attorney had an electronic receipt of submission. On Monday, December 16, 2019 the City responded to the agreement saying they would not sign it. This happened hours before the schedule release of the report at Carver.
The public should also know that there have been 3 previous scans of the Rolling Oaks site conducted in the past when the property was owned by another individual all of which have failed to produce an evidence of mass graves. This information was included in the report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 dated February 21, 2001. In spite of this the current owner was agreeable to allow this fourth scan to proceed with certain safeguards in place.
The current property owner raised questions during his meeting with the City such as the fact that this proposed site was not platted as a cemetery until 1927 and was formerly farmland. Also, located in close proximity to this site is the Calvary Cemetery a/k/a Rentie Grove Cemetery which was established in 1904 and that this may be a more likely location needing to be scanned.
It is unfortunate that the Mayor has attempted to make my client a fall guy on this issue and has not truthfully disclosed what he knows to be factual. My client is fully willing to meet with the City to discuss a framework for this to proceed when the City is willing to give my client safeguards to protect the interments existing as this location.
- Timothy P. Studebaker, Esq. - Attorney for the Cemetery Management Inc."
Experts said the anomalies don’t necessarily mean they are mass graves or that there are remains related to the race massacre. It could be a tree root, or an unmarked grave for a body not related to the massacre.
The public oversight committee will now start on a plan for the next steps in the investigation. That could include more geophysical surveys, excavation and a plan for what to do with remains if they are recovered. They want to ensure the remains don’t end up in a museum or in a laboratory. They want the victims to have a proper burial.
Watch the presentation here:
Learn more about the investigation at cityoftulsa.org/1921graves.
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