By Natasha Simmons
Eagle Staff Writer
The search for mass graves from the Tulsa 1921 Race Massacre is ongoing. On Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 Scott Hammerstedt with the Oklahoma Archaeology Survey equipped with ground penetrating radar devices began work at Oaklawn Cemetery. Previous radar scanning done in 2000 at Oaklawn Cemetery detected anomalies in a 15×15 sq. ft. area of the cemetery possibly indicative of a mass burial site. A 3×6 sq. ft. area was authorized by the city to excavate, however the planned excavation was stopped due to the report of an unrelated burial site possibly being disturbed. Mayor GT Bynum opened the mass graves search in efforts to help resolve a painful issue left unaddressed by the City of Tulsa for decades. A Mass Graves Oversight Committee was formed with the aid of Mayor Bynum and Councilwoman Hall-Harper.
Work at Oaklawn has been concluded and work at Newblock Park is next on the schedule. The date of the search at Rolling Oaks (formerly Booker T. Washington Cemetery) is now being negotiated with the private owner, stated Mayor Bynum.
Oversight committee members Kavin Ross, Chief Amusan and Kristi Williams have asked that the nearby Inner Dispersal Loop be searched. Ross has discussed the potential of mass graves under the overpass and like wise Chief Amusan also points to Oaklawn Cemetery being listed on 10th Street in earlier maps. The state purchased approximately 10% of Oaklawn for the Inner Dispersal Loop and the freeway was built in the late 70s to early 80s. The city now may search the grassy trail near the overpass.
Two decades ago, former Rep. Don Ross had initiated the Tulsa Race Riot Commission and Report, excerpts from the report regarding the race massacre dead and Oaklawn Cemetery read: Stanley -McCune also had a hastily arranged contract with Tulsa County to bury (unembalmed) the bodies of blacks whose relatives could either not afford to claim them for private burial or were not informed of the deaths. In all, Stanley-McCune handled the arrangements for two whites and eighteen blacks. Mr. Jackson of Jackson Funeral Home prepared the bodies of all of the blacks for burial. He embalmed two of these that were claimed and were buried in other cities. Mowbray and Stanley- McCune Records indicate the remaining sixteen were not embalmed and placed in plain wood coffins…These Oaklawn burials were conducted at county expense.
Stanley -McCune records indicate numbers for each burial. These numbers form a single sequence 1-19 except for graves 15,16,and 17. It was documented twenty years ago should archaeological exploration of the area go forward, the excavators should encounter if records are accurate, these graves in orderly fashion.
State Rep. Regina Goodwin and Oversight Committee Member said, “ Contrary to a report, we have never questioned why Oaklawn is being searched, we know the stories and the documents. I was at Oaklawn twenty years ago, when the search at Oaklawn was unfortunately and abruptly stopped.”
Reports then and the same reports now of other possible mass grave sites should be added to the search, specifically the Inner Dispersal Loop and Crown Hill Cemetery. Jennettie Marshall , School Board member said, “Mabel Little, a race massacre survivor, told me mass graves exist at Crown Hill. There is a huge area that becomes depressed every time it rains.”
Mike McConnell, former owner of Crown Hill noted Grant Hastings, the previous owner shared that mass graves from the 1921 Race Massacre are in the north area of the cemetery.” McConnell brought maps and pointed out the area at an Oversight meeting.
New Crown Hill owner Aric White, reports the same story and invites radar scanning at Crown Hill. “ I have been waiting for someone to contact me.”
Rep. Goodwin said, “What is the point of asking the community to provide worthwhile insight, if we are narrowly confined to the Commission Report that even then Rep. Ross thought should have been more inclusive?”
Editor’s note: Former Rep. Don Ross noted blacks were banned from burying their family members in 1921. Mr. Jackson, black owner of Jackson’s Funeral Home at the time, was released from detention and told to aid in the burial of victims.