Correction: This story misstated the address for Newblock Park. The story has been corrected.
The search for unknown burial sites from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre enters a new phase on Monday at a not-so-unknown location.
The Oklahoma Archeological Survey will begin subsurface scanning at 1:30 p.m. Monday afternoon in Oaklawn Cemetery, 1133 E. 11th Street, where records and news accounts indicate at least 18 black victims of the massacre were buried. The exact locations of those burials, and the manner in which they were done, remains something of a mystery, however.
So does the matter of whether more than the 18 were entombed at Oaklawn in the frantic June days following the massacre. Speculation has lingered for nearly a century about the number of people killed in the fighting, and whether all of their bodies were accounted for. Many believe they have not been.
Researchers have identified three areas in the southwest quadrant of Oaklawn for the subsurface scanning. The work is expected to take Monday afternoon and all of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to complete.
Areas in and near Newblock Park, 1414 Charles Page Blvd., and at the former Booker T. Washington park, now known as Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, 4300 E. 91st St., are also slated for scanning in the weeks ahead.
The scanning is open to the public with certain restrictions related to the technology’s sensitivity: cellphones set to airplane mode or turned off; photography equipment kept at a distance; no loud music or videos.
Also, visitors are reminded the site is a cemetery and care should be given to headstones, museums and graves. Children are to be accompanied by adults and pets must be leashed.
Although the scanning process is generally referred to as “ground-penetrating radar,” other technologies may be employed as well. These include gradiometers, which measure variations in magnetic fields, and electrical resistivity imaging, which produces underground mapping data by measuring resistance to electrical impulses.
In July, Oklahoma Archeological Survey Senior Researcher Scott Hammerstedt explained the different technologies and warned that none will produce instantly recognizable results.
“It’s not going to show an actual skeleton,” he said. “Unless you’re incredibly fortunate. The only time I’ve heard of that actually happening was down in Jamestown, (Virginia), where a guy had a hand-held and he put it right on top of a coffin. He actually got an outline of the bones. That will not happen, unfortunately, with any of the machines we have.”
Last week, members of the committee overseeing the search were told Hammerstedt and his team will need about a month to prepare a report once the scanning is completed.
The search is being conducted under the auspices of Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office.