Three centenarian survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre will be allowed to argue in court that the mass violence that decimated the Greenwood District in 1921 set the stage for a ‘public nuisance’ that continues to affect Tulsa and its black community , attorneys for the plaintiffs said.
Tulsa County Judge Caroline Wall this week issued a 13-page order allowing a civil action filed by massacre survivor Lessie Randle, 106; Viola Fletcher, 107; and Hughes Van Ellis, 101, to continue. The plaintiffs seek damages for the ongoing public nuisance amounting to some $200 million in today’s dollars.
“The Court’s decision is historic,” said Sara Solfanelli, special adviser for pro bono initiatives at law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel. “This victory not only recognizes that the massacre was a devastating attack on the black community 100 years ago, but sets the stage for our customers to prove that it was also a public nuisance that continues to harm the community. community today.”
In her ruling, the judge denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim entirely. However, it dismissed two defendants, the Tulsa Development Authority and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, as neither existed in 1921. The City of Tulsa, Tulsa Regional Chamber, Tulsa County Commissioners, County Sheriff of Tulsa and the Oklahoma Military Department remain as defendants.
Wall also ruled that seven other plaintiffs in the case had failed to establish the right to sue based on complaints of public nuisance.
Still, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, a team contributor representing Randle, Fletcher and Van Ellis, described the judge’s overall ruling as a victory.
“The massacre robbed Black Tulsans of our sense of security, our hard-won economic power and our vibrant community,” the attorney said. “(It) created a nuisance that continues to this day (which) has led to the continued destruction of life and property in Greenwood across all quality of life parameters – life expectancy, health, unemployment, level of education and financial security.”
Plaintiffs in the case allege that from May 31 to June 1, 1921, a large white mob attacked the prosperous, all-black community of Greenwood. The mob, including local law enforcement officers, members of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and other local leaders, swamped the area about 40 blocks, killing hundreds of black residents , injuring thousands more and burning down more than 1,000 homes and businesses. , states their lawsuit.
“For the first time in over 100 years, the last three living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre will finally have the opportunity to hold accountable the institutions that instigated and facilitated one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in history. of this country,” Michael said. Swartz, co-head of the litigation group at Schulte Roth & Zabel. “While we are excited about the court’s landmark decision, this case is by no means over. We believe the discovery will unearth more facts about what really happened; the plaintiffs and the public deserve a deeper understanding of the events and their consequences, and a more accurate historical record.
In her ruling, the judge allowed the plaintiffs to amend their motion to address any shortcomings. She ordered their lawyers to file a second amended motion by September 2.