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Lawsuit filed over 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Posted at 9:14 AM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-01 19:37:20-04

TULSA, Okla. — A lawsuit filed this week demands the City of Tulsa and others repair the damage from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Justice for Greenwood Advocates, a group of civil and human rights lawyers led by Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon Simmons, filed a lawsuit demanding the repair of destruction caused in 1921 in the Greenwood district, as well as the City's continued failure to rebuild the area.

The lawsuit is based on the 1921 Massacre and its continued aftermath - the continuing wounds inflicted again and again by those who led and supported it. Greenwood, a neighborhood and community that once was a shining star for Black people throughout the United States, called Black Wall Street, was brutally destroyed by a large angry white Tulsa mob that included government officials. White elected and business leaders not only failed to repair the injuries they caused, they engaged in conduct to deepen the injury and block repair.
1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Lawsuit | Press Release

The lawsuit's main plaintiff is 105-year-old Lessie Benningfield "Mother" Randle. She is one of two known Tulsa Race Massacre survivors still alive today.

Other plaintiff's include:

  • Vernon A.M.E., the only standing Black-owned structure from the Historic Black Wall Street era and the only edifice that remains from the Massacre;
  • Laurel Stradford, great-granddaughter of J.B. Stradford who owned the Stradford Hotel in Greenwood, the largest Black-owned hotel in the United States at the time of the Massacre;
  • Ellouise Cochrane-Price, the daughter of Massacre survivor Clarence Rowland and the cousin of Massacre victim Dick Rowland;
  • Tedra Williams, the granddaughter of Massacre survivor Wess Young;
  • Don M. Adams, the nephew of Massacre victim Dr. A.C. Jackson;
  • Don W. Adams, great-grandson of Massacre survivor Attorney H.A. Guess;
  • Stephen Williams, grandson of Massacre victim Attorney A.J. Smitherman who owned the nationally circulated Tulsa Star Newspaper;
  • The Tulsa African Ancestral Society, whose membership includes descendants of Massacre survivors.

Seven defendants are identified in the lawsuit that are said to have contributed to the "public nuisance and unjustly enriched themselves at the expense of the Black citizens of Tulsa and the survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre."

Officials said five defendants were directly involved in the Tulsa Race Massacre itself:

  • City of Tulsa
  • Tulsa County
  • the then-serving Sheriff of Tulsa County
  • the State National Guard
  • a branch of the Oklahoma Military Department
  • Tulsa Regional Chamber, also known as the Chamber of Commerce

The Oklahoma National Guard’s Office of Public Affairs released a statement Tuesday defending the actions of the Guardsmen based on historical documents.

There are widely varying accounts of the role played by the National Guard during the events of late May and early June 1921 in the Greenwood District. However, the historical record shows that a handful of Guardsmen protected the Tulsa armory and the weapons inside from more than 300 rioters. The actions of these Guardsmen substantially reduced the number of deaths in the Greenwood District. In the days following the riots, Oklahoma Guardsmen restored order to the area and prevented further attacks by both black and white Tulsans. Due to pending litigation, the Oklahoma National Guard will offer no further comment on this subject.

Officials said the other two defendants are the Tulsa Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Tulsa Development Authority. Officials said the Tulsa Metropolitan Planning Commission joined the City and County in isolating the Black community through city planning initiatives. While, the Tulsa Development Authority used it's "urban renewal powers to take property from Greenwood residents" to create I-244.

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