Home National news Oklahoma Supreme Court dismisses Tulsa Race Massacre survivors’ lawsuit

Oklahoma Supreme Court dismisses Tulsa Race Massacre survivors’ lawsuit

by PRIDE Newsdesk
The last living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre: Hughes Van Ellis, 100; Lessie Benningfeld Randle, 106; and Viola Ford Fletcher, 107. (photo by Valerie Fields Hill, courtesy of Texas Metro News)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed a case filed by the last two remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre on June 12, casting doubt on racial equality campaigners’ aspirations for justice and reparations for one of the most heinous acts of racial violence in American history.

The nine-member court upheld a previous ruling by a district court judge in Tulsa, stating that the plaintiffs’ grievances, although legitimate, did not fall within the purview of the state’s public nuisance statute. “We further hold that the plaintiff’s allegations do not sufficiently support a claim for unjust enrichment,” the court declared in its decision.

Attempts by the Black Press to contact both parties were unsuccessful.

Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Fletcher, two survivors who are both over 100 years old, filed the lawsuit in 2020 to compel the city of Tulsa and other parties to make amends for the destruction a White mob caused to the thriving Black neighborhood known as Greenwood. On May 31 and June 1, 1921, the mob, which included individuals hastily deputized by local authorities, looted and set fire to the district, famously dubbed ‘Black Wall Street.’

The massacre resulted in the deaths of up to 300 Black Tulsans and forced thousands of survivors into internment camps managed by the National Guard. Today, only remnants like burned bricks and part of a church basement remain of the once-thriving 30-block area.

Benningfield Randle and Fletcher, along with the now-deceased Hughes Van Ellis, sued to secure what their attorney termed “justice in their lifetime.” Van Ellis, affectionately known as ‘Uncle Redd,’ was a WWII veteran and a symbol of resilience who died last year at age 102. The lawsuit was grounded in Oklahoma’s public nuisance law, arguing that the massacre’s legacy of racial division and economic disparity persists in Tulsa to this day.

The plaintiffs contended that the city’s history of racial tensions and the economic fallout from the massacre still reverberate, citing the lack of compensation for victims by the city and insurance companies. The lawsuit sought an exhaustive accounting of the property and wealth lost or stolen during the massacre, the construction of a hospital in north Tulsa, and the establishment of a victims’ compensation fund, among other reparations.

In reflecting on Van Ellis’s legacy, advocates emphasized his lifelong commitment to seeking justice for massacre survivors. “He bravely served America, even as he spent a lifetime awaiting atonement related to the Tulsa Race Massacre,” Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Regina Goodwin said after Van Ellis’s death. “Mr. Ellis urged us to keep fighting for justice. In the midst of his death, there remains an undying sense of right and wrong.”

Rocky Dawuni, a three-time Grammy-nominated artist, also paid tribute to Van Ellis, remarking on his indomitable and uplifting spirit. “Uncle Redd had a larger-than-life presence. His life and story have become part of our collective struggle as a people,” Dawuni said. “His experiences give us a unique glimpse into what Black people had to endure and still have to endure to this day.”

Despite the legal setback, advocates vow to continue their fight for justice, drawing inspiration from the survivors’ unwavering resolve.

“If this truly is a nation of laws and a state based on the law, then my clients, the last-known survivors of the massacre, should get the opportunity that no one else who suffered the devastation had the privilege of,” Damario Solomon-Simmons, a national Civil Rights attorney and founder of Justice for Greenwood, recently said.

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