An Oklahoma judge has rejected a lawsuit filed by the last three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre seeking compensation for the horrific event.
Judge Caroline Wall of the Tulsa County District Court rejected the suit on Friday, July 7th, effectively precluding further reparation-seeking attempts by survivors and their attorneys.
The plaintiffs, aged between 102 and 109, are survivors of one of the most dreadful episodes of internal terrorism in United States history. The 1921 massacre, originally deemed a riot, in Greenwood, Tulsa, dubbed Black Wall Street, saw a violent white mob raze over 1,000 homes and businesses, displacing thousands. A white mob stormed the Black community on May 31st, 1921 through June 1st, looing businesses and destroying 35 city blocks.
While only 39 deaths were officially documented, recent estimates suggest that the death toll could be closer to 300, according to the Tulsa Historical Society Museum.
The lawsuit, lodged in 2020, alleged that the 1921 massacre remained an “enduring public nuisance” for survivors Viola Fletcher, Lessie Benningfield Randle, Hughes Van Ellis, Sr., and the Black Tulsa community.
Judge Wall dismissed the suit based on submissions from the city, local chamber of commerce, and other state and local government bodies. The dismissal, being with prejudice, means the case cannot be relaunched.
Although judicial elections in Oklahoma are officially nonpartisan, Judge Wall has self-identified as a “constitutional conservative” in her campaign materials.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, in a statement, said, “The city 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.”
The case was filed under Oklahoma’s public nuisance law, claiming that Black Tulsa residents still feel the repercussions of the massacre. It suggested that the city’s historical racial divide and tension are rooted in the massacre, further intensified by the alleged exploitation of the massacre site for tourism since 2016. However, Judge Wall’s order stated the plaintiff’s public nuisance claim was unconstitutional and dismissed it.
This ruling marks the end of a century-long fight for legal reparations by survivors. A series of previous attempts at reparations have failed, including a federal lawsuit dismissed in 2003 due to an expired statute of limitations.
According to court documents, the court deemed any further amendment futile, thereby permanently dismissing the case.
Meanwhile, Viola Fletcher, the oldest survivor at 109, is set to publish a memoir next month chronicling her life in the aftermath of the massacre.
The Tulsa race massacre is considered to be the most severe incident of racial violence in U.S. history, as per the Oklahoma Historical Society.