The University of Oklahoma-Oklahoma Archaeological Survey on Monday began a test evacuation of a Tulsa cemetery to determine whether large numbers of human remains were dumped in a mass grave by whites following the 1921 massacre in which 300 black men, women and children were murdered.
The test evacuation is part of a feasibility study to determine the presence or absence of human remains, nature of interments, and to obtain data to help inform future steps, including appropriate recovery efforts. The test evaluation will take three to six days to complete depending on the hot weather.
In March, the City of Tulsa with the Public Oversight Committee agreed to move forward with the excavation of the sexton section of the Oaklawn Cemetery, where the initial geophysical investigation identified an anomaly consistent with a mass grave.
In 1921, whites attacked the Greenwood District of Tulsa, which had been settled by Creek Freedmen, who were former Black slaves of Creek Indians and Blacks. The massacre began May 31 and ended June 1. White mobs murdered more than 300 of the mostly Black residents of the Greenwood District. Police arrested more than 6,000 Black residents but not one white man who participated in the massacre was taken into custody.
“As a city, we are committed to exploring what happened in 1921through collective and transparent process-filling gaps in our city’s history and providing healing and justice to our community. In the past 99 years, no other government agency or government entity has moved this far into an investigation that will seek truth in what happened in 1921,” said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.
A tribal monitor and a Public Oversight Committee will monitor the excavation. Three goals have been set: public oversight, historical context, and physical evidence.