The Oklahoma Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The ruling came only weeks after a Tulsa County court dismissed a lawsuit seeking restitution for the massacre’s last three known survivors, Viola Fletcher, Lessie Benningfield Randle, and Hughes Van Ellis. However, the state’s top court agreed to hear the appeal last week.
“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, National Civil Rights Attorney and founder of Justice for Greenwood said during a recent press conference where calls for the reversal of the judge’s dismissal were discussed.
“They should be able to go to court and have a court of law determine what occurred and what it takes to fix or abate the nuisance created when 40 blocks were burned to the ground, over 1,500 homes and businesses were destroyed, and never rebuilt. This destruction occurred due to crimes, destroying property and making it uninhabitable. That fits directly within the Oklahoma Public Nuisance statute that has been on the books for over one hundred years,” Solomon-Simmons added, according to a press release shared with ESSENCE.
Attorneys for the city claimed 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,” according to The Hill.
However, the plaintiffs in this case, who are all older than 100, are seeking relief from damage inflicted during the massacre, which they say is a “public nuisance,” and to “recover for unjust enrichment” others gained from the “exploitation of the massacre”.
The once thriving community of Greenwood, known at the time as Black Wall Street, was made up of Black-owned businesses, churches, and homes. In 1921, it was bombed and burned to the ground by white mobs after a Black man was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. Thirty-five city blocks of the community were destroyed entirely, and it’s estimated that up to 300 people were killed. No one was ever charged.
“The survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre are heroes, and Oklahoma has had 102 years to do right by them,” said attorney Olomon-Simmons told The Associated Press.
“Our Supreme Court should fulfill its constitutional duty by examining the law and promptly overturning Judge Caroline Wall’s erroneous decision to dismiss our case. They should remand it back to the district courts to enable us to proceed with discovery,” Attorney Solomon-Simmons said.