Judge to Decide if Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors Can Sue City

In Summary

The survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre are still searching for justice a century later, and a judge is set to decide if they can sue for damages. 

A judge in Oklahoma is deciding if survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre can sue the city for damages 100 years later.  

RELATED: Attorneys File Lawsuit Seeking Redress for Tulsa Massacre 

According to KOTV, survivors are seeking damages from the city, state and the Tulsa Chamber. They allege the massacre was the beginning of an array of discriminatory practices and segregation which pushed Black people north through policies like urban renewal and redlining.  

Eleven attorneys are representing the three survivors; 107-year-old Viola Fletcher, 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle and 100-year-old Hughes Van Ellis. The defense, comprised of six attorneys representing the chamber, city and state, says the statute of limitations has run out. They also say the survivors were not directly injured by the actions that took place.  

RELATED: Remembering the Tulsa Massacre 100 Years Later 

The pain of that day still haunts the survivors and the Black community in Oklahoma and beyond. The Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was full of Americans who were unapologetically Black and wealthy. Business owners and land bearers whose attempt to create a legacy of wealth for future generations to come built up the area to be known as Negro Wall Street.  

On May 30, 1921, 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black shoe shiner, was accused of attacking a 17-year-old white woman in downtown Tulsa. Rowland was taken into custody, and the Tulsa Tribune printed a story about the alleged attack, causing rumors to spread that Rowland would be lynched.  

A white mob of angry and well-armed men rushed to the jail and met a small group of armed Black men there to protect Rowland. As the two groups met, a gun went off, causing chaos. Rowland was released and left town, but Greenwood was already under attack. White men, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, destroyed property, lit fires, looted and shot residents. Black men and women were hunted down, stabbed, shot and burned alive. Bombs were dropped overhead from airplanes.  

RELATED: Transformation Church Gives $1M to Survivors of Tulsa Massacre, Community Organizations 

Twenty years ago, Oklahoma’s Tulsa Race Massacre Commission recommended reparations to survivors and descendants, but they never came. In June of this year Damario Solomon-Simmons, the lead attorney representing the survivors, joined Start Your Day to discuss the fight for justice.  

Solomon-Simmons is a native of Oklahoma, and he said fighting for this cause is his purpose. Despite the number of people who have moved out of Greenwood and Oklahoma after the massacre, he still says justice is deserved. “The fight has just begun. It’s not over,” he said. “We have not received a comprehensive, what we call, a Greenwood plan. A comprehensive reparations plan.”  

If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here.  

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