NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Days after a Tulsa judge struck down a legal path to restitution for the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, KFOR caught up with Dr. Karlos Hill at his home in Norman.
Hill said he was disheartened by the news.
REPORTER: So how does the state of Oklahoma count the cost for what happened in 1921?
DR. KARLOS HILL: We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it had.
Hill is Regents’ Professor of the Clara Luper Department of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, a board member for the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and author of The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History.
The lawsuit centered on a years’ long effort to compel the city of Tulsa and others, to compensate for what’s been called one of the worst acts of racially-motivated violence and terror in the country’s history.
“I came really close to the history and the people who represent the history and certainly the victims, survivors and descendants,” he said.
“So, the recent dismissal of their case, their claims, their rightful just claim for reparations for restitution [and] you’re talking about three known survivors, not all survivors…it’s been really disheartening to see that we don’t have a heart for these victims. We won’t find a way to to legally write or legislatively address [what happened].”
Hundreds of Black Oklahomans were murdered, but economics expert Nathan Nunn, Ph.D., also said the massacre contributed to the largest single episode of property destruction experienced by a Black community.
The two-day long event leveled nearly 1,300 hundred homes and two hundred businesses, and caused as much as $47 million in damages, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, of which Nunn, a Professor of Economics at the Vancouver School of Economics, is an author.
“There’s a lot of historical narrative that says this was a warning or a warning shot, [or this was], basically don’t accumulate too much wealth, don’t become too prosperous or this [type of event] could happen to you [and] today we know that homeownership rates amongst Black individuals is lower than other than others,” Nunn added.
“That was 100 years ago. Why are we still talking about this? [Well], the effects … you can still you can see them in the data, right?
From his vantage point, Dr. Hill centers the long-lasting impact of the massacre on the victims.
He said it’s an insult not to compensate Lessie Randle, Hughes Van Ellis and Viola Fletcher for the horror they witnessed first-hand in 1921.
“When it comes to anti-Black racial violence, even the most the deadliest attack on a Black community, we still can’t find the compassion to give restitution to three survivors or even have a genuine conversation with the community about what a community reparations program today would look like,” he added.
“They [Randle, Van Ellis and Fletcher] represent standing claims that were made 100 years ago. So, yes, we have to value them,” said Hill.
“A community was destroyed. And so if a community was destroyed, a community deserves reparations,” he added.
The city of Tulsa announced another two-day test excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery, as part of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Graves Investigation with the University of Oklahoma – Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) and Cardno.
According to a city-issued release, test excavations help experts determine the presence or absence of human remains and obtain data for the investigation, including future excavation and recovery efforts.