Yesterday I drove to Oaklawn cemetery to take photos. For some reason, I’ve always loved to take photos at cemeteries.

This cemetery has some notoriety. A sad one though.

In Photographs Of Famous Oaklawn Cemetery 2021, a headstone of Mr. and Mrs. Sharp
December 29, 2021

Just over a year ago, about 100 years after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, they unearthed a mass grave.

It was thought to be connected to one of the worst incidents of racial terror against Black people in U.S. history.

As many as 300 African American residents were slaughtered by white mobs. A section of the city known as Black Wall Street was reduced to ash.

A grave with four names on the headstone

How This Investigative Development Came About:

In 2018, Mayor G.T. Bynum announced the City of Tulsa would reexamine the potential of graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre as identified in the 2001 State commissioned report.

Four sites were identified in the City’s examination: Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park, an additional area near Newblock Park, and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, formerly Booker T. Washington Cemetery.

The City established three goals around the reexamination, including: public oversight, historical context and the physical evidence investigation.

In Photographs Of Famous Oaklawn Cemetery 2021, crews of workers dug the hole looking for remains of the 1921 massacre.
Photo credit NPR

Historians have tried to determine for decades where most of the victims were buried.

Scientists used ground-penetrating radar and found “anomalies” that could indicate the existence of an unmarked burial ground.

Because that was evidence of a mass grave, a team of the foremost researchers in the U.S. assembled there. They were there to assess the presence and condition of any human remains.

A view of downtown Tulsa from the vantage point of two headstones
Near downtown Tulsa at Oaklawn cemetery

I just checked my archives, and it seems I wrote about the history of this riot one year ago this month.

There was a candlelight vigil on the streets of Black Wall Street. These people were there to honor the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

According To The Tulsa World Reporter:

While taking pictures, almost on cue, the rain fell around the time the first shots were fired 100 years ago around 10:30 p.m.

In those moments I saw pain and remembrance as the rain seemed to fall, as the tears poured out of those in attendance.” — Michael Noble Jr., Tulsa World


But on this day, December 29, 2021, I was the only human walking the grounds.

A gaggle of geese was my only companion.

In Photographs Of Famous Oaklawn Cemetery 2021, a gaggle of geese roamed between the graves

They walked in front of my car as I drove slowly along the streets of the cemetery.

Last year when I came here, there was a big hawk guarding the graves. I captured photos of the hawk as it flew from one grave to another and perched at the top.

In Photographs Of Famous Oaklawn Cemetery 2021, last time I took photos here, a year ago, there was a hawk instead of geese.
December 11, 2020

In looking up the general habitat for geese, I read that most species prefer living in and around freshwater. There was no water nearby.

But many species of geese also inhabit public parks, farms, and pastures. Or other urban areas.

I don’t know why each time I’ve gone there I have seen large birds like the hawk and the geese.

Perhaps they are sentinels keeping watch over the graves that were disrupted.

More geese at Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa
December 29, 2021

I hope this quiet and sense of tranquility signals that the victims of the riot are now at peace after having been dug up and reburied.

(Here is what was found at the sites that were examined.)

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15 Comments

  1. A sad history, and unfortunately, we haven’t progressed enough in our tolerance of people who don’t look like us. Thanks for writing about it, and keeping this important history alive.

  2. What sad history. How can such evil be so hugely inflamed in human beings here or anywhere……the big reason history should never be erased or hidden! For you, that must be feel a bit surreal to walk among where such sadness and evil played out. Thank you for sharing the history and your artful photos. RIP poor souls who endured such undeserved evilness in this life !

  3. Thank you for a thoughtful and well written post. I had not heard of this incident until a few years ago and it hurts my heart to know people could do something that horrible and cruel to fellow human beings. I hold out hope that we will learn from this and that the souls that lost their lives that day are finally at peace.

    Best wishes to you and the kitties in 2022.

  4. Unfortunately some of the history in our country shows how cruel as humans we could be to each other. This was a horrific injustice. Glad you wrote your blog post to honor those that lost their lives in such a horrible way. Happy wishes to you as we enter the new year soon. Hope the packing and getting ready for your move are going well.

  5. We traveled a good deal when I was a child, visiting different parts of the country, many museums, art galleries, natural wonders/scenic sites, archaeological sites, small-town America, etc. We also stopped at many cemeteries, especially those of historic significance… ALL were always fascinating and educational as they provided a glimpse backwards of the many who came before us, reminding us that ALL contributed to our collective history… good, bad or ugly…and we should never forget any part thereof.
    Thank you for this lovely post.

  6. Thank you for this post Brenda. We all should acknowledge the actual facts of our American History, good and bad. It is hard to understand that there are people in this country who want to wipe away parts of history as though
    events never happened. What a travesty. That is how we learn and move on to be better people and not repeat bad history. I am from the northeast, and the only black people I learned about In school were Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, and George Washington Carver. Slavery was briefly mentioned when studying the civil war. Since moving to the South, I have learned a great deal more regarding the treatment of black people that is appalling. It is shameful. I also like looking at headstones in cemeteries, and wonder what each of their lives were like in the time periods the person lived in.

  7. In some cultures birds, especially larger birds, are thought to carry or guide the souls of the deceased to Heaven/Paradise. This is one incident that was left out of the history books when I was in school (graduated high school in 1969). I didn’t hear of it until perhaps five years ago! I think it is sad that we cover up and prefer not to talk about the things that some Americans inflict upon other Americans. Trying to bury the truth – why? We should never be afraid of the truth. There is no perfect civilization, no perfect government, and no perfect people. That being said, unless we understand and acknowledge our truth as a nation and as citizens in that nation on all levels, we cannot hope to steer toward change for the better.

    1. Well I have lived in Tulsa just over 10 years and I only heard about it the last year or so. No one ever mentioned it to me and I didn’t know of its existence. It is a terrible thing that happened, and maybe that’s why Tulsans didn’t want it mentioned. But like you say: there are no perfect people.

      1. Thank you Brenda for sharing about this terrible event in our history. I never knew this happened either until you wrote about it previously. Breaks my heart and pray good can come out of it somehow to these precious families.
        Trust you are doing well with packing and excited to move on to your new home.

  8. Brenda, this is very touching.
    Thank you for honoring those who lost their lives to this terrible injustice.
    You honor them by visiting this cemetery, and writing about it – it keeps the history present in the hearts, and minds, of those of us reading with sadness, and the hope of change.
    Best wishes for you in 2022, as you move forward.

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