Reparations For 1921 Incident Heads To State Supreme Court

A case revolving around reparations to be paid for survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre will head to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

After a judge from a lower court dismissed a challenge to the case in July, racial justice advocates were worried that the government would not be able to make amends for what was one of the single worst violent acts against Black people in the history of the United States.

On July 9, the case was dismissed by District Judge Caroline Wall of Tulsa County. The survivors of the massacre appealed that decision up to the state Supreme Court, though, and the high court agreed to take it on.

The state of Oklahoma commented on the appeal on Monday, saying that it wouldn’t consider a settlement amount with the massacre survivors. The group wants the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule that the case needs to be returned back to the district court level, so it can be determined what occurred as well as what it might take to abate or fix the continuing nuisance they allege the massacre created.

There are only three surviving people from the massacre who are still living, and all are more than 100 years old. Hughes Van Ellis, Viola Fletcher and Lessie Benningfield Randle have filed a lawsuit seeking reparations from the state, the city and other entities.

In the massacre, a white mob completely destroyed the Black-majority Greenwood district, which at the time was thriving.

In a statement given to The Associated Press, Damario Solomon-Simmons, who’s serving as the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said:
“The survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre are heroes, and Oklahoma has had 102 years to do right by them. The state’s efforts to gaslight the living survivors, whitewash history, and move the goal posts for everyone seeking justice in Oklahoma puts all of us in danger, and that is why we need the Oklahoma Supreme Court to apply the rule of law.”

The plaintiffs are basing their case on the public nuisance law that is in place in Oklahoma. Their suit claims that actions that the white mob took when it destroyed the most prosperous Black business district in the country at the time – killing hundreds of Black people in the process – continues to affect the Black community in the city of Tulsa to this day.

The lawsuit says the long history of tension and division between the races in Tulsa all came from the Tulsa massacre.

The state has argued in response that the district judge properly dismissed the case already.

Kevin McClure, who serves as the state assistant attorney general, wrote in Oklahoma’s response to the plaintiffs’ appeal that Wall properly ruled that the plaintiffs weren’t able to outline clearly identifiable claim for getting the relief.

As he wrote:
“All their allegations are premised on conflicting historical facts from over 100 years ago, wherein they have failed to properly allege how the Oklahoma Military Department created (or continues to be responsible for) an ongoing ‘public nuisance.’”