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Tulsa Race Massacre reparations lawsuit can move forward, judge rules

Survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre are closer than ever to receiving reparations for the deadly, racist attack of 1921.


On Monday, a judge allowed a lawsuit seeking reparations for three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre to proceed, denying a motion to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit, filed last year, also seeks reparations for descendants of victims of the massacre, in which a white mob attacked Tulsa's Greenwood district, also known as Black Wall Street. An estimated 300 Black people were killed and more than 1,200 homes were destroyed, leaving hundreds homeless.

The momentum that propelled the case to this point was largely conjured through the testimony last year before Congress of the three remaining survivors: Hughes Van Ellis, Sr., Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Fletcher, who shared harrowing accounts of the massacre. 

“We’re still alive," Damario Solomon-Simmons, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said on “The ReidOut” on Monday. "That’s the main thing that we wanted to have happen today, was to be able to move forward in this case."

The lawsuit invokes Oklahoma’s 1910 public nuisance law, which bars acts that harm “an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons.” Defendants in the lawsuit include the City of Tulsa, the Oklahoma Military Department and the Tulsa Development Authority. 

The symbolic importance of this case can’t be overstated. Presently, the conservative movement is engaged in an effort to hide and whitewash historic injustices like the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the racist motivation behind them. At the same time, various entities — from colleges to cities to states — are considering their role in systemic racism and contemplating what so-called reparations might look like for them. 

When it comes to acknowledgment of the country’s racist ills, the United States seems to be at a fork in the road. The outcome of the Tulsa Race Massacre case will be a strong indicator of which path the country is set to take going forward.