Oklahoma Supreme Court urged to rule swiftly on Tulsa Race Massacre survivors' appeal as final brief filed

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Legal experts fighting for reparations for the two last-known living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre have submitted their final brief to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Lessie Benningfield Randle turns 109 this week amid her ongoing legal battle for reparations.
Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Lessie Benningfield Randle turns 109 this week amid her ongoing legal battle for reparations.  © MANDEL NGAN / AFP

Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons announced the move in a press conference in Oklahoma City on Monday, also attended by 109-year-old survivor Viola Ford Fletcher.

After over a century of deprivation and denial, the legal team is working to secure Fletcher and 108-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle their day in court – before it's too late.

Their case, which relies on Oklahoma's long-standing public nuisance law, was dismissed by conservative Judge Caroline Wall in July. One month later, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed to review an appeal, giving renewed hope to a demand for justice over 100 years in the making.

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A swift reversal of Wall's decision is necessary, as the survivors and descendants of Tulsa's Greenwood community, known as Black Wall Street, are still living through the pain and trauma of the massacre.

Over two days in 1921, a mob of white law enforcement officers and deputized civilians murdered hundreds of Black residents and wiped out entire blocks of buildings and homes. Many of those structures were never rebuilt, nor have the survivors and their families been compensated for their losses.

"Those crimes made property uninhabitable and/or destroyed property, property like the Stradford Hotel, the largest African-American-owned hotel in the nation at the time, burned down to the ground never to be rebuilt," Solomon-Simmons said during the news conference.

"The Stradford Hotel was a place of employment, a place of pride, a place of tax revenue, and a great place of housing. This is just an example of the continuation of the nuisance."

Oklahoma Supreme Court urged to reach a swift decision

Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Hughes Van Ellis passed away in October at the age of 102 after a lifelong struggle for accountability and repair.
Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Hughes Van Ellis passed away in October at the age of 102 after a lifelong struggle for accountability and repair.  © Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Now that the briefing cycle has closed, the case to reverse Wall's dismissal stands ready for a decision from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The survivors and their team are convinced the law is on their side.

"This court that I stand in front of – we stand in front of – has the opportunity to do what's right for the first time in 102 years," Solomon-Simmons urged.

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The absence of massacre survivor and World War II veteran Hughes "Uncle Redd" Van Ellis, who passed away last month at 102, makes the urgency of a quick ruling all the clearer.

"Despite all that he went through, despite all that Mother Fletcher has gone through, despite all that Mother Randle has gone through, they still believe in the fundamental principle of justice here in America, and as Uncle Redd would say, 'We are one.' To show and prove that we are one, they should receive the same justice that everyone else in Oklahoma receives," Solomon-Simmons insisted.

"We're not looking for a miracle. We're just looking for [the court] to apply the law as written."

Cover photo: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

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