Tulsa Massacre: Key day in court could bring justice remaining survivors
Legal challenge may finally bring monetary justice to three survivors a century after the massacre in a Black district in Oklahoma
Tulsa Race Massacre survivors are due back in court on Sept. 28. This time a judge will decide on a motion on whether to allow a case that may finally award three remaining survivors of the Tulsa Massacre damages.
In an exclusive interview with theGrio, civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons explained the legal state of play for the three remaining Tulsa massacre survivors. A legal challenge may finally bring monetary justice to three survivors.
“It’s not just for these survivors, it’s about our ability as a people to get redress and justice for things that we know have happened,” Solomon-Simmons told theGrio. “That’s what’s at stake here. If we can’t get justice for what happened with the Tulsa massacre, what can we get justice from?”
In 1921 one of America’s worst racial massacres took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma after a white mob killed over 250 Black citizens in the Greenwood district of Tulsa. The massacre resulted in the destruction of one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S populated and run by African Americans.
The three Tulsa survivors are Viola Fletcher, who is 107, her brother Hughes Van Ellis, 100, and Lessie Randle, the lead plaintiff who was 6 when the massacre occurred. Randle will turn 107 on Nov. 10.
The bloodshed started in a way so many other American race massacres have — there was a rumor that a Black man named Dick Rowland, 19, attacked a white woman, Sarah Page, 17 in an elevator.
Though no similar cases have been won by victims of race massacres in the U.S., the state of Oklahoma used a similar legal strategy Solomon-Simmons will utilize. In Aug. 2019, the state of Oklahoma used a “public nuisance law” to win in court against Johnson & Johnson for those seeking decades of damage from the opioid epidemic.
“The public nuisance law that we’re utilizing is over 100 years old but it was recently used by the state of Oklahoma to win a $536 million abatement verdict against the opioid companies,” Solomon-Simmons said.
“One of the interesting things about our case is that the state of Oklahoma is actually saying the exact opposite of what they stated in that case to get us out of court,” he added.
If the judge rules in favor of the survivors, they will be able to demonstrate evidence of decades-long damage to their lives as a result of the Tulsa Massacre.
“We have a comprehensive abatement plan to fix the damage that was done and is currently being done because of the massacre. It includes a number of different things, like the building of a hospital, providing an accounting of what was lost, mental and emotional therapy opportunities, land development,” Solomon-Simmons told theGrio.
“The court needs to allow us the opportunity to move forward in our case, so we can do actual discovery,” he added.
If the Fletcher/Ellis/Randle case moves forward, historians, economists, doctors, psychiatrists and land development experts could relay specifics on damages created because of the massacre
Fletcher’s family had to flee Tulsa after the massacre. Over 6,000 Black people had to be brought to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds by the National Guard to be protected by the mob for up to a week.
A 501(c)(3) launched at JusticeforGreenwood.org was established in support of the Greenwood massacre survivors. There have been several remembrances, congressional floor speeches and street renaming related to the Tulsa Massacre.
Soon it will be known if a monetary award is within grasps for the centenarian survivors.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke