Jul 10, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Judge rejects Tulsa Race Massacre reparations lawsuit

Viola Fletcher, 109, (left) and brother Hughes Van Ellis, 102, survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre during an event in Washington D.C., on June 18. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

An attorney for the three remaining Tulsa Race Massacre survivors said Sunday they'll appeal an Oklahoma judge's decision to reject a lawsuit seeking reparations for the 1921 atrocity, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Driving the news: Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice on Friday, preventing Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, Viola Fletcher, 109, and Hughes Van Ellis, 102, from refiling in the Oklahoma district court their lawsuit against the City of Tulsa and others, but the survivors can still appeal the decision to a higher court.

The big picture: The survivors stated in the suit that the City of Tulsa broke Oklahoma's public nuisance law when it failed to act after a white mob attacked the Black middle-class Greenwood District of Tulsa, which left an estimated 300 people dead and thousands of homes and businesses torched.

  • They were seeking damages to "recover for unjust enrichment" others had achieved from the "exploitation of the massacre" in a previously thriving area known as the "Black Wall Street" and cited ongoing harm to Black residents in Oklahoma due to the massacre.
  • Fletcher said in 2021 ahead of the 100th anniversary of the massacre that she could still smell the smoke of burning buildings and see "Black bodies lying in the street" and noted she had never seen justice and prayed that one day she would.
  • But Wall sided with the City of Tulsa, which argued in earlier court filings that "simply being connected to a historical event does not provide a person with unlimited rights to seek compensation from any project in any way related to that historical event."

What they're saying: "Black Americans, especially Black Tulsans, carry the weight of intergenerational racial trauma day in and day out — a weight they cannot relinquish or cavalierly dismiss," said Sara Solfanelli, an attorney for the survivors, in a statement to WashPost announcing her intention to appeal.

  • "The dismissal of this case is just one more example of how America’s, including Tulsa's, legacy is disproportionately and unjustly borne by the Black community."
  • Civil rights attorney Ben Crump tweeted Saturday that the judge's decision was a "sad miscarriage of justice."

Meanwhile, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a statement to media that the city hadn't yet received the full court order.

  • But he said it "remains committed to finding the graves of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims, fostering economic investment in the Greenwood District, educating future generations about the worst event in our community’s history, and building a city where every person has an equal opportunity for a great life."

Go deeper: Exhumations to resume in attempt to identify victims of Tulsa Race Massacre

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