OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The lawyers for the last three living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre are asking for the Oklahoma State Supreme Court to take up their restitution case after it was rejected by a Tulsa district judge in July.
The lawsuit centers 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.
The three plaintiffs were children when the massacre occurred: Lessie Benningfield Randle, Viola Ford Fletcher, and Hughes Van Ellis Sr.
The suit was brought under Oklahoma’s public nuisance law, saying the actions of the white mob that killed hundreds of Black residents and destroyed what had been the nation’s most prosperous Black business district continue to affect the city today.
It contended that Tulsa’s long history of racial division and tension stemmed from the massacre, during which an angry white mob descended on a 35-block area, looting, killing and burning it to the ground. Beyond those killed, thousands more were left homeless and living in a hastily constructed internment camp.
The city and insurance companies never compensated victims for their losses, and the massacre ultimately resulted in racial and economic disparities that still exist today, the lawsuit argued.
A Chamber of Commerce attorney previously said that the massacre was horrible, but the nuisance it caused was not ongoing.
The city requested the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that being connected to a historical event doesn’t give a person unlimited rights to seek compensation.
Judge Caroline Wall of Tulsa County ruled the lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it could not be filed again.
Now, the survivors’ legal team is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reverse that decision and allow them to move forward with discovery and oral argument.
“We are the only plaintiffs in Oklahoma required to state our remedy in advance of engaging in the sort of fact-finding that is usually permitted by Oklahoma law,” said co-counsel Eric Miller. “That’s not just unfair, it’s literally unprecedented, and will impact each and every case filed by plaintiffs in Oklahoma going forward unless the Supreme Court steps in and forces Judge Wall to do the right thing and apply the right standard.”
The appeal was filed Friday. It is unknown when the Supreme Court will consider it.