Oklahoma Court Rejects Tulsa Massacre Reparations Lawsuit

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The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has ruled against a lawsuit filed by the two last living survivors of a racist attack that occurred over a century ago, seeking retribution for the continuing consequences of that event.

Over a century since a violent white mob decimated a thriving African American community, killing numerous residents and rendering hundreds homeless, the state’s highest court has affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case brought forward by the survivors.

The legal action, initiated by 109-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle and 110-year-old Viola Ford Fletcher, who were both young children during the massacre, proceeded in spite of the recent death of Fletcher’s brother, Hughes Van Ellis, who passed away at 102 last year.

The horrific event took place on May 31, 1921, in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, known as “Black Wall Street,” where a white mob, sanctioned by local law enforcement, launched a deadly attack on African Americans. Eyewitness accounts and sparse media reports from the time detail how the mob used aircraft to drop firebombs and dynamite on the area.

The violence resulted in the deaths of many Black residents, whose bodies were disposed of in the Arkansas River or buried in unmarked graves. Survivors were forcefully detained in makeshift internment camps.

The assault led to the total destruction of homes and businesses, including eateries, hotels, theaters, and a newspaper office. Notably, Mount Zion Baptist Church was targeted with machine-gun fire before being completely razed.

Despite the severity of the assault, no individual was held legally accountable.

The rejected lawsuit, based on Oklahoma’s public nuisance law, argued that the ramifications of the massacre are still evident in the form of racial inequalities, economic disparities, and ongoing trauma experienced by survivors and their descendants.

This story is still unfolding.

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