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Part Of Lawsuit By Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors Can Continue, Judge Says
Monday, Judge Caroline Wall of Oklahoma’s Tulsa County District Court ruled that part of the lawsuit raised by three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre can proceed. According to the New York Times, Lessie Benningfield Randle, 107, Viola Fletcher, 107, and Hughes Van Ellis, 101, are suing multiple defendants, including the city of Tulsa, the county sheriff, and the Oklahoma National Guard.
The last three remaining survivors, along with descendants of other victims, filed a lawsuit in 2020 seeking reparations for the harm and destruction that continues to effect the neighborhood of Greenwood a century later.
It was once home to a vibrant Black community full of homes, schools, churches, and many other establishments. Its thriving business district, dubbed Black Wall Street, was also destroyed during the attack in which a mob of white people killed hundreds of Black residents. What used to be more than 40 blocks of Black-owned businesses, including stores, hotels, and restaurants, is now just half a block.
The riot began on May 31, 1921, when Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black man, was accused of sexually assaulting Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white woman, an accusation for which charges were later dropped. Participants in the white mob began shooting any Black people they encountered.
Black homes and businesses were set ablaze. It is believed that up to 300 Black people were killed and over 800 were injured in what has come to be known as one of the most horrific race massacres in American history.
“History was made today,” said Damario Solomon-Simmons, a lawyer working for the plaintiffs. “She allowed a part of our case to move forward to discovery and trial…There is a lot of work left. But we take any small victory we can get.”
Michael Swartz, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said, “The court’s ruling is incredibly important. It means that, after 100 years, the three living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre will finally have an opportunity to hold the institutions that instigated, facilitated and brutally implemented one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in this country’s history accountable for their actions and to seek to repair the continuing harm done to their once thriving community.”