For the first time in over a hundred years, Tulsa Race Massacre survivors will be able to move forward with a lawsuit challenging the massacre as a public nuisance. The three remaining Tulsa Race Massacre survivors will finally get the chance to make a case for why the massacre was a “public nuisance” and how it continues to impact the Black community.
Tulsa County Judge Caroline Wall determined the survivor plaintiffs’ public nuisance suit can move forward. A team of civil rights attorneys represents the survivors in their lawsuit against several government agencies, including the city of Tulsa and the surrounding county.
The case will now move to discovery and allow the plaintiffs to make their case for why the massacre was, in fact, a public nuisance. Race massacre descendants and survivors have been fighting for reparations and restitution for decades.
Several other plaintiffs, including the Historic Vernon A.M.E. Church, had their claims dismissed as the court found that they did not have the standing to sue. Likewise, two local agencies were dismissed as Defendants as they did not exist at the time of the massacre.
Wall also provided the three survivors time to amend their pleading to cure issues noted in some of the claims presented.
“The Court’s ruling is historic,” said Sara Solfanelli, special counsel for pro bono initiatives at Schulte Roth & Zabel. “This victory not only recognizes that the Massacre was a devastating attack on the Black community 100 years ago but clears the path for our clients to prove that it was also a public nuisance that continues to harm the community today.”
The court also referenced the findings of the Oklahoma legislature in the final report, “The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission.” Lessie Benningfield “Mother” Randle, Viola “Mother Fletcher” and Hughes Van Ellis were all young children in 1921 when a mob of white people terrorized and decimated Tulsa’s Black community and killed as many as 300 people.
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, a Tulsa native, said the Tulsa Race Massacre was a nuisance because of the widespread destruction to Black Tulsa and the ongoing deprivation experienced by residents to this day. He also said the massacre deprived Black Tulsa of security, economic power and vibrant community development.
“The nuisance has led to the continued destruction of life and property in Greenwood in every quality of life metric—life expectancy, health, unemployment, education level, and financial security,” Solomon-Simmons said. “We look forward to proving our case around the Massacre’s ongoing catastrophic effects and demonstrating the actions that defendants must take to repair and rebuild the Greenwood community during our clients’ lifetimes.”
Watch the full press conference below: