No Justice! Oklahoma Supreme Court Dismisses Tulsa Race Massacre Lawsuit

The Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the last two survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Fletcher, who sued the city in 2020.

A third plaintiff, Hughes Van Ellis, died last year at 102.

The nine-member court upheld the decision made by a district court judge in Tulsa last year, who rules that although the plaintiff’s complaints were legitimate, they did not fall within the scope of Oklahoma’s public nuisance statute. 

“We further hold that the plaintiff’s allegations do not sufficiently support a claim for unjust enrichment,” the court said.

The lawsuit was intended to force the city of Tulsa and others to compensate victims for the destruction of the Black district of Greenwood, also called Black Wall Street. On May 31, 1921, a white mob looted and burned down homes and businesses.  Nearly 300 Black residents were killed. Displaced survivors were forced to live in internment camps or to move out of the city.

The lawsuit was brought under Oklahoma’s public nuisance law, which claims that the attack continues to affect the city today. The suit argued that Tulsa’s history of racial division and tension stemmed from the racially-motivated massacre. The loss of the once-thriving region caused economic disparities that exist today, the lawsuit said. Insurance companies denied claims filed by Black business owners, which today would be worth tens of millions of dollars in property damage. 

Fletcher, who is now 109 years old, said she has vivid, lingering memories of the massacre. “It just stays with me, you know, just the fear. I have lived in Tulsa since, but I don’t sleep all night living there,” she told CNN.

RELATED CONTENT: Black Wall Street of Tulsa’s Greenwood District Becomes a Nationally Registered Historic Place

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