Tulsa World POY 2019

Angela Berg with the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s works in Oaklawn Cemetery during a search for possible mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Tulsa’s next step in searching for unmarked graves from the 1921 Race Massacre ought to be made with care and delicacy.

The city’s Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee announced on Monday that a test excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery will resume in April.

It’s a significant step in determining what lies beneath anomalies detected in October along the Arkansas River and Oaklawn Cemetery near downtown.

We support the search as the right and necessary move to reconcile the city’s past to its future, but it is equally important that it be done with mindfulness toward known grave sites.

The work so far has been scans from the topsoil. The next phase involves digging. The test excavation will be in an 8-foot-by-8-foot section and is expected to provide greater details.

Disturbing existing graves would be an understandable concern among families with ancestors buried in the identified areas.

It is one of the reasons the owners of the Rolling Oaks Cemetery have been reluctant to have researchers investigate for unmarked graves on its property.

Some of the places to examine lie beneath known burial sites. It’s a complicated process that comes with some unease.

Families, and the public, deserve assurance the excavation will be conducted in a way that does not cause harm or displacement.

Anxiety can be mitigated by taking precautions and being transparent. Tell us what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and what you’re going to do if things go wrong.

Tulsa embarked on the search to bring justice to homicide victims from the massacre and accountability to those who were in power. It furthers the journey toward the truth of what happened.

For generations, it has been believed many more people died than the official death count of 37. Authorities at the time said they could not confirm all deaths, and some estimates are into the hundreds.

It is never too late to search for facts. It is never too late to do the right thing.


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