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Tulsa begins new search for Race Massacre gravesites

Crews utilize heavy equipment to conduct a "test excavation" at Oaklawn Cemetery to search for possible grave sites of 1921 Race Massacre victims.
Ben Abrams
Oklahoma Public Media Exchange
Crews utilize heavy equipment to conduct a "test excavation" at Oaklawn Cemetery to search for possible grave sites of 1921 Race Massacre victims in July 2023.

Tulsa is moving ahead with a third excavation of gravesites from the 1921 Race Massacre.

At a press conference earlier this week, Mayor G.T. Bynum was joined by State Archaeologist Dr. Kary Stackelbeck and Brenda Nails-Alford, a descendant of massacre survivors, in detailing the latest work of finding victims' graves at Oaklawn Cemetery.

“We’re trying to find people who were murdered over 100 years ago and were buried without the intent of being found," Bynum said. "We know there are 18 victims of the race massacre buried in Oaklawn Cemetery. We have documentary evidence of it."

Stackelbeck said her team found a series of bricks and other items that were laid out in a way consistent with makeshift headstones.

"We had one, and then we had another, and then we had another, until we ended up actually exposing a row of these," Stackelbeck said.

Stackelbeck said the finding could be an area identified by massacre survivor Clyde Eddy, who died in 2008, though she is "hesitant" to conclude if it's the same site as Eddy's eyewitness account. She said Section 20 of Oaklawn is sparse on details, unlike the rest of the cemetery.

Stackelbeck's team had previously completed a preliminary excavation in July to determine whether further digs were necessary. The team detected a "geophysical anomaly."

Stackelbeck also said her team is starting with less information than they would like.

"The main geophysical survey expert who was involved unfortunately passed away in the intervening years and we do not have his original data," she said.

Nails-Alford said she is "grateful" for the city's continued effort to find gravesites.

Bynum also released a new surname identified from existing remains. He encouraged anyone with the last name "Traylor," from Louisiana and Bowie County, Texas to visit the city's official 1921 Graves webpage to help connect the dots.

Crews at Oaklawn will use heavy equipment before transitioning to hand-excavation over the course of a few weeks.

“We will follow this investigation wherever it leads us," Bynum said.

Ben Abrams is a news reporter and All Things Considered host for KWGS.
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