Survivors, Descendants Of Tulsa Massacre File Lawsuit Seeking Reparations For Destruction Of Black Wall Street

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Written by Ann Brown
Tulsa
The survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa massacre have filed a lawsuit seeking reparations for the destruction of Black Wall Street. Credit: Tulsa Historical Society & Museum

Mobs of white people attacked Black residents, their homes and businesses in Tulsa’s Greenwood District on May 31 and June 1, 1921. They not only looted and burned Black-owned businesses but also killed as many as 300 Black people and left 10,000 homeless. The Tulsa Massacre remains one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. 

Survivors of the massacre and their descendants have filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma state court against the City of Tulsa, demanding that the it “repair the damage” caused by the attack.

“They tried to kill all the Black folks they could see,” a survivor, George Monroe, told The Washington Post.

Attorneys for victims and their descendants are seeking reparations for the destruction of the city’s once-thriving Black business district, known as Black Wall Street.

Led by Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, the group believes that Tulsa’s long history of racial division and tension stems from the massacre.

The victims were never compensated and the massacre resulted in racial and economic disparities that still exist today, according to the lawsuit, PBS reported.

“We’re not just talking about what happened in 1921. We’re talking about what’s still happening,” Solomon-Simmons said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “We believe this lawsuit will be successful because there is no question there is a nuisance created by the defendants.”

The lawsuit, which was filed under the state’s public nuisance law, wants the defendants to “abate the public nuisance of racial disparities, economic inequalities, insecurity, and trauma their unlawful actions and omissions caused in 1921 and continue to cause 99 years after the massacre.”

The evidence of this, noted Tulsa attorney Steven Terrill, is “unemployment in Tulsa’s Black community is more than twice that of white Tulsans, median household income for Black residents is half that of whites, Black students are nine times more likely to be suspended from school, and life expectancy for North Tulsa residents is 11 years below the life expectancy in the rest of the city,” PBS reported.

“The lawsuit is seeking an extensive amount of remedies in this case including providing compensation to the survivors and descendants of the race massacre and the cease of any work by the city of Tulsa to promote or profit from the massacre,” News On 6 reported.

The suit also calls for payment of all outstanding claims made by Greenwood residents as a direct loss of the massacre, for a scholarship program that benefits descendants, and immunity from all city and county taxes for the next 99 years for massacre descendants.

The lead plaintiff in the case is 105-year-old Lessie Benningfield “Mother” Randle — one of the last living survivors of the massacre, The Washington Post reported.

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Other plaintiffs include witnesses and descendants of witnesses to the carnage. Among them is Ellouise Cochrane-Price. She is the daughter of massacre survivor Clarence Rowland and the cousin of Dick Rowland, the teenager whose 1921 arrest for allegedly assaulting a white woman triggered the attack. The accusation turned out to be false.

Other defendants include the Tulsa Regional Chamber, Board of County Commissioners, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Tulsa County Sheriff and the Oklahoma Military Department.