Oklahoma Supreme Court grants hearing in Tulsa Race Massacre survivors' reparations case

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to grant a hearing with oral arguments as the two last-known living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre continue their legal fight for reparations.

Viola Ford Fletcher (c.) and Lessie Benningfield Randle (r.) have launched a public nuisance lawsuit seeking reparations for the ongoing harms they have experienced since surviving the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Viola Ford Fletcher (c.) and Lessie Benningfield Randle (r.) have launched a public nuisance lawsuit seeking reparations for the ongoing harms they have experienced since surviving the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.  © IMAGO / USA TODAY Network

In 2020, Tulsa Race Massacre survivors Viola Ford Fletcher (109) and Lessie Benningfield Randle (109), along with recently deceased World War II veteran Hughes Van Ellis (102), launched a historic lawsuit seeking restitution for the horrors they endured as children and in the years since.

The case relies on the state's long-standing public nuisance law, allowing the plaintiffs to avert potential issues over the statute of limitations for damages – a tool used to negate previous claims for redress.

Conservative District Court Judge Caroline Wall sparked outrage when she decided to dismiss the lawsuit last July. In August, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed to review an appeal in the case.

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The latest decision to grant a state Supreme Court hearing signals a victory for the survivors and their legal representatives, who have been fighting for years just to have their day in court. For the team, the urgency of winning acknowledgement and redress cannot be overstated given the plaintiffs' advanced age.

"We appreciate the Oklahoma Supreme Court's swift attention to our case following an unlawful dismissal," lead attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said in a news release.

"As we shared earlier on, our hope is that the Justices of Oklahoma Supreme Court will act swiftly in the pursuit of justice, honoring the resilience of Mother Randle and Mother Fletcher while they are still with us," he added.

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Tulsa's thriving Greenwood District is reduced to rubble in the infamous 1921 race massacre.
Tulsa's thriving Greenwood District is reduced to rubble in the infamous 1921 race massacre.  © IMAGO / Bridgeman Images

The Tulsa Race Massacre is known as one of the deadliest acts of racial violence in US history.

Over May 31-June 1, 1921, a white mob killed hundreds of Black Americans in Tulsa's Greenwood district, known as Black Wall Street. Attackers decimated thousands of buildings and homes in their murderous rampage, and even dropped fire bombs on the community from decommissioned US military planes.

After the massacre, authorities immediately sought to cover up the crimes by destroying police records and burying bodies in unmarked mass graves.

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The survivors and Greenwood descendants have not received any compensation since the coordinated white-supremacist assault. Instead, what they have gotten is more than 100 years of gaslighting as stark racial disparities persist across wealth, education, employment, housing, health, and the criminal legal system.

The Justice For Greenwood legal team is due to give an in-person presentation before the Oklahoma Supreme Court justices on April 2 at 1:30 PM CST making clear why Judge Wall's decision must be reversed.

Cover photo: IMAGO / USA TODAY Network

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