Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall rejected motions by the defendants, which included the city of Tulsa, and ruled that a lawsuit can proceed that seeks reparations for survivors and descendants of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Other defendants include the Tulsa County Board of County Commissioners, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Tulsa County Sheriff and the Oklahoma Military Department.
Wall’s ruling brought new hope for three know survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, giving some measure of justice over the racist rampage in which an angry white mob killed hundreds of Black residents and destroyed what had been the nation’s most prosperous Black business district.
Civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons filed the lawsuit in 2020 under the state’s public nuisance law. He said, “A quick decision is critical for living survivors to have possibly their last opportunity to have their day in court,” citing their ages. “We want to ask the judge to move forward and move forward as soon as possible, Solomon-Simmons added.
The three survivors are Lessie Benningfield Randle, 107, Viola Fletcher,107, and Hugh Van Ellis, 101.
The lawsuit seeks financial and other reparations, including a 99-year tax holiday for Tulsa resident who are descendants of victims of the massacre in the north Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood. It is estimated that as many as 300 people, most of them Black, died.
The violence erupted after a white woman told police that a Black man had grabbed her arm in an elevator in a downtown Tulsa commercial building on May 30, 1921.
The following day, police arrested the man, whom the Tulsa Tribune reported had tried to assault the woman. Whites surrounded the courthouse, demanding the man be handed over. World War I veterans were among Black men who went to the courthouse to face the mob. A white man tried to disarm a Black veteran and a shot rang out, touching off further violence, according to reports.
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre began when an angry white mob descended on a 35-block area, killing people, looting and burning business and homes. Hundreds of Black residents in Tulsa’s Greenwood District died. Thousands more were left homeless and living in a hastily constructed internment camp.
No one was ever charged in the violence. The city and insurance companies never compensated the victims for their losses, and the massacre resulted in racial and economic disparities that still exist today, the lawsuit claims. In the years following the massacre, according to the lawsuit, city and county officials actively thwarted the community’s effort to rebuild, and neglected the Greenwood and predominantly Black north Tulsa community in favor of overwhelmingly white parts of Tulsa.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages and calls for creations of a hospital in north Tulsa, in addition to mental health and education programs and a Tulsa Massacre Victims Compensation Fund.