After a restart and a bit of retooling, scientists enjoyed an uneventful and productive day surveying areas of Oaklawn Cemetery for unmarked burial sites from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The Oklahoma Archeological Survey team had to retrace its efforts from Monday because data gathered with subsurface scanning equipment was corrupted by interference from spectators’ electronics and Blue Tooth devices and from traffic on the adjacent highway.
The team still had to make some adjustments to its equipment on Tuesday, mostly because of the highway traffic.
The area surveyed Tuesday is near the southwest edge of the cemetery. The area has few markers, and officials said former cemetery employees had identified it as a place they believed massacre victims were buried.
Yellow tape marked off a large section of the cemetery on Tuesday, and a guard and a city employee met visitors at the gate. Unlike Monday, when a large number of spectators, including reporters and photographers, came to watch proceedings, few people except the workers were in evidence.
Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office has insisted that the Oklahoma Archeological Survey crew’s work be as open to the public as possible, but after Monday’s disruption, it issued a notice that cellphones and cameras are to be turned off if within 300 feet of the scanning equipment and that photography will be allowed only from a distance.
The notice also warns against loud noise, including talking.
On Wednesday, the team plans to scan around two headstones of known massacre victims near the site surveyed the past two days. One headstone is for a black man whose body was found in the immediate aftermath of the fighting. The other headstone is for a black man whose body was found east of the city several days later.
It is unclear when the headstones were placed or if they mark the two men’s actual burial sites. It is thought if two massacre victims are buried there, others might be nearby.
The team plans to scan at least two other sites at Oaklawn over the next three days. Scanning in and around Newblock Park, 1414 W. Charles Page Boulevard, and at Rolling Oaks Cemetery, 4300 E. 91st St., is also planned.
What is now Newblock Park was the city dump at the time of the massacre, and several oral histories have marked it as a place where bodies may have been taken. A nearby location, now a tent encampment by the Arkansas River, has also been identified as a place to search.
Rolling Oaks Cemetery was once known as Booker T. Washington Cemetery and was formerly reserved for African Americans. At least two other black cemeteries are in the immediate vicinity.
Behind the scenes, Tulsa officials were rehearsing a frantic effort to save lives in the most nightmarish of scenarios.
But on the public side of the curtain Tuesday morning, people simply lined up and quietly filled out paperwork, taking about four minutes on average to get in and out of a makeshift health clinic at Oral Roberts University.
“Our goal isn’t just to be fast,” said Alicia Etgen, the manager of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Program for the Tulsa Health Department. “Our goal is to be as efficient as possible, to be fast but to distribute the medication effectively, too.”
The Health Department has contingency plans for distributing antidotes or vaccinations to as many as 600,000 Tulsa County residents in case of a large-scale health emergency, such as a biochemical terror attack or pandemic outbreak.
But a plan is only as good as the personnel who have to execute it, so officials practiced emergency procedures while giving out free flu shots in the lobby of the Mabee Center, one of 10 designated crisis distribution points across the city.
Police patrolled the parking lot and guarded the entrance, just as they would during a real crisis, while health officials set up the clinic from scratch and rushed supplies to the scene, as if they had just been mobilized on the spur of the moment.
Of course, the flu shots were not such an urgent matter. But if officials have to practice giving shots to a large number of residents, it might as well be a vaccination that people can really benefit from.
Tuesday’s exercise served a dual purpose: rehearsing emergency efforts while kicking off the annual “Don’t Bug Me” flu awareness and prevention campaign.
The Health Department expected to give as many as 600 free flu shots before the end of the day, while timing how long it took to get each person through the process.
A similar event last year set a pace that would let officials distribute emergency medication to the county’s entire population within 24 to 48 hours, if all 10 emergency distribution points were activated and fully staffed, officials said.
“There’s only so much you can simulate for a training exercise,” said Leanne Stephens, a Health Department spokeswoman. “So it helps to have real people involved.”
Twenty other locations statewide will conduct similar exercises this week while distributing flu shots, officials said.
A decade after Ben Hill Community Center last hosted programming, and nearly 8 years since community outcry saved it from demolition, the idle recreational center is on its way back.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Reed Community Foundation founder Keith Reed announced a joint effort to renovate and reopen the center at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Through $177,000 in a 2006 sales tax package, the city will replace the center’s roof and repair its exterior. The Reed Community Foundation plans to renovate the interior.
The upcoming Improve Our Tulsa package up for a vote on Nov. 12 will also include $2.75 million to renovate the surrounding park. Bynum said it was “as exciting a moment I can recall in the recent history of our city” to announce the center’s revival.
“I’m so grateful that we found a partner with the vision and the commitment that is going to partner with us and help us reopen Ben Hill Community Center,” Bynum said. “Community centers in Tulsa have not had the best decade. I can easily recall talking to folks when I was running for mayor. ... When the city is going around tearing down rec centers under cover of darkness; we can do better as a city.
“Now in just the last year, we have not just saved, but revitalized three different community centers in Tulsa. Chamberlain, McClure and then today, Ben Hill.”
The community center, 210 E. Latimer Place, reportedly closed in 2002 but hosted off and on programming until about a decade ago. In 2012, it and eight other recreation centers were targeted for demolition at a time when the city considered them too far gone to refurbish. Crews demolished the center’s pool in 2013.
Reed, known as “Coach” to the kids he’s been a father figure for and as “Flash” in the ring, said it’s been a long journey to get the foundation to where it is. The foundation has outgrown its two other north Tulsa locations, and Reed said the time was right to expand while helping the city bring back a neighborhood institution.
“It’s unbelievable,” Reed said. “I’ve been working on this for years and now the dream is true.”
For more than 14 years, the foundation has offered programs and services including tutoring, physical conditioning and character development for more than 200 kids each year. Reed said the new location, which he said the foundation will occupy by May 2020, will let the team expand programs.
Bringing back the community center goes a long way for the neighborhood at large as well. Rev. Gerald Davis, one of the Reed Community Foundation’s board members and the chairman of the Greenwood Neighborhood Association, said the renovated community center gives residents a sense of ownership.
“This building represents the historical significance of bringing the community into a place that gives empowerment to individuals and the community,” Davis said. “And it represents the imagination to take people not just that, ‘I am somebody,’ but to where we can help others. This is a great day.
“This is ours. The community has always claimed Ben Hill Park as a beacon for what Greenwood is.”