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Tulsa Massacre Lawsuit Dismissed By Oklahoma Supreme Court 

The historic quest for justice by the last two known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Lessie Benningfield Randle, 109, and Viola Ford Fletcher, 110, ended with a state court ruling. 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of their lawsuit, which argued that the 1921 massacre and destruction of Black Wall Street amounted to an ongoing public nuisance, seeking reparations. The court ruled that their grievances, including lingering economic and social impacts, do not fall within the state’s public nuisance statute and are matters for policymakers.

“The continuing blight alleged within the Greenwood community born out of the Massacre implicates generational-societal inequities that can only be resolved by policymakers — not the courts,” the ruling states.

The lawsuit, filed in 2020, contended that the massacre's impact continues to affect the Greenwood community through enduring racial disparities and economic inequalities. The massacre began on May 31, 1921, when a white mob attacked the prosperous Black neighborhood, reducing 35 city blocks to ashes, killing up to 300 people, and leaving thousands homeless. No person or entity was ever held responsible, and no survivors were compensated.

State and local officials argued they should not be held accountable for events that happened in 1921. The lawsuit named the Tulsa County sheriff, county commissioners, and the Oklahoma Military Department as defendants. Judge Caroline Wall had allowed the case to proceed in May 2022 but dismissed it in July 2023 on procedural grounds.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, but ultimately ruled against the survivors. Lawyers for the defendants argued that the survivors lacked standing and that governmental agencies involved were shielded from liability by sovereign immunity in 1921. Despite their advanced age, Ms. Randle and Ms. Fletcher expressed a desire for justice and clarity, though they remained uncertain if they would live to see it.

Their lawyer, Damario Solomon-Simmons, highlighted the massacre’s long-lasting impact on racial disparities and trauma among survivors and their descendants, emphasizing the need for acknowledgment and reparations.

“On the one side, you have 109-year-old plaintiffs who are the last two survivors of the massacre,” he said. “On the other side, you have the perpetrators of the massacre who for 103 years have escaped any liability and who deny to this day that they caused the destruction which these survivors witnessed with their own eyes.”

The dismissal of the Tulsa Massacre lawsuit by the Oklahoma Supreme Court is a profound disappointment and a stark reminder of our nation's failure to do what's right. The courageous fight for justice by Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Ford Fletcher, the last two known survivors of the 1921 massacre, has been met with a legal system unwilling to address the ongoing repercussions of this atrocity. This decision not only denies these women the justice they deserve but also perpetuates the generational trauma and economic disparities inflicted upon the Greenwood community.

Link: NY Times


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