Tulsa, OK. – An Oklahoma judge has ruled in favor of the three over 100-years old survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall ruled on Monday that a lawsuit ﬁled by the survivors and descendants against various city, county, and state entities could, in fact, move forward. There was jubilee inside and outside the courtroom.
Two of the survivors are 107, and the other is 101, and they all felt the government had been stalling, anticipating their deaths before anything positive could occur. But in a surprise ruling, and in a standing room only courthouse, things went in their favor, leaving many in tears. Lead attorney Damario SolomonSimmons was one of them. He told the press after the ruling that he was overcome with emotion. “This is absolutely amazing,” he said.
The ruling comes more than 100 years after the massacre killed as many as 300 Black people, injured as many as 800, and left some 10,000 without homes. It was one of the worst racial incidents of violence in United States history.
The three lead plaintiffs in the case are all over 100 years old. They are: Lessie Benningﬁeld Randle, 107; Viola Fletcher, 107; Hughes Van Ellis, 101. They were all in the courthouse Monday.
The lawsuit was ﬁled in 2020, claiming the city, the county, and the Oklahoma National Guard caused a public nuisance because they did not defend the Black community from the White mob that descended upon Greenwood on May 31, 1921.
The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce is also being sued. Greenwood had been so prosperous it was called Black Wall Street.
In the midst of the violence survivors said there were airplanes above, dropping turpentine bombs on the town. They also recounted seeing bodies being tossed into the Arkansas River or being loaded onto trucks or trains. They said it was an all-out effort to kill all the Black people that were in sight.
Now the survivors are seeking reparations.
But they’ve sought reparations through the courts before. In 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a reparations case appeal after a federal court ruled the statute of limitations had expired. Survivors were highly disappointed and saddened.
But onlookers say Monday’s ruling is another chance to fight for justice.
Florida attorney Richard Ryles of West Palm Beach, won a reparations case in the Rosewood Massacre that took place in Florida in 1923. Rosewood was also a racially motivated massacre of Black people and the destruction of a Black town that took place during the first week of January in 1923. Reports say as many as 150 Black people were killed.
Attorney Ryles, who is also president of the Palm Beach County Black Caucus, was part of the team that was successful in getting the Rosewood survivors and descendants $2.1 million in the case. He also scored a scholarship for descendants. He is pleased with Monday’s ruling in the Tulsa case, but says he is curious about an appellate court decision when it gets to that point. He says courts often still point to statutes of limitations expiring. He says he’s cautiously optimistic in this case. “I’m pleased thus far, but cautious,” he stated in a telephone interview after the ruling.
Fletcher, 107, and her 101-yearold brother, say they want justice this time around. They say the scars and memories have haunted them every day since May and June of 1921. “Please don’t let me leave this earth without justice,” said Ellis, during testimony.