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.”
In the fall, the archaeological team plans to search the potter’s field area of Oaklawn Cemetery, where an oral history from Clyde Eddy, a witness to the massacre, suggests there may be bodies.
Ellsworth said the team will also look for 18 black people buried in the cemetery in unmarked graves. “We discovered 22 years ago, through funeral home records that 18 were buried here by a white funeral home — 15 were identified; three were not identified,” said Ellsworth. The funeral home billed the city, but there was no location cited for the burials.
Officials suspect the 18 bodies may be buried near two known massacre victims — Reuben Everett and Eddie Lockard, black men whose tombstones said they were killed on June 1, 1921.
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.
Artifacts found in the test site at Oaklawn will be conserved at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum, which will curate the items, including the pair of shoes.
The massacre — one of the worst episodes of racist violence in U.S. history — became the subject of renewed scrutiny as Tulsa prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary next year. It was also depicted in the opening scenes of the hit HBO series “Watchmen.”
The massacre began May 31, 1921, when a white mob marched on Tulsa’s all-black Greenwood neighborhood, one of the most affluent black communities in the country. It was often referred to as “Black Wall Street.” The mob gathered after a black teenager was accused of assaulting a white woman on an elevator.
Historians say that as many as 300 black people were killed in the massacre. Greenwood was burned to the ground. Survivors reported that bodies were tossed in the Arkansas River or loaded onto trains, making it difficult to account for the dead.
Read more Retropolis: