TULSA, Okla. — A Tulsa judge ruled the historic Greenwood church, Vernon A.M.E., cannot be a part of the lawsuit stemming from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Justice for Greenwood attorneys argue the massacre caused a public nuisance and they’re looking for a remedy.
“It’s not only a travesty and a slap in the face to those who call Vernon home, but every Tulsan who wants to see justice,” said Keith Mayes Sr., Senior Pastor of Vernon A.M.E. Church.
There are pictures on the wall at Vernon A.M.E. that show the aftermath of the church that was damaged in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Mayes Sr. calls the building living history. If you tour the church, you can see the double-bricked walls in the basement that kept the fire out while people inside prayed for their lives. You can see the spalling on the support beams that show the aftermath of an intense fire. Mayes says every part of Vernon has been touched by the Race Massacre.
“It was quite disturbing to me because anyone who remotely knows the history of the massacre should be keenly aware that Vernon church is the only surviving structure,” said Mayes Sr.
Justice for Greenwood is working to prove the Massacre caused a public nuisance. They’ll move forward with their lawsuit by filing an amended petition. Only the three remaining survivors of the Massacre are allowed to be involved per the judge’s ruling.
“It’s an issue of humanity,” said Mayes Sr. “It’s an issue of righting the wrong.”
In Judge Caroline Wall’s ruling, the court said, “Vernon lacks standing to sue in this matter.”
Court documents say the church entity did not exist until 2019. “The Church claims injuries derived from the unknown members of a prior entity," the ruling says. "The entity owning the property of the Church at the time of the Massacre in 1921 was an unincorporated association.”
“What happened with the church before its incorporation status?” said attorney Randall Adams. “Is this the same group of people? Is this the same entity? We think that would’ve been appropriate to decide during the case but to decide before we even got there we were disappointed and surprised to see.”
Randall Adams is one of the attorneys working on the case. During a news conference Thursday, attorneys said they’re studying their options and considering whether they’ll take any additional steps.
Mayes Sr. is hoping they can be added back to the suit.
“In order to fix it, we have to face it,” he said.
The Justice for Greenwood team has until Sept. 2 to file an amended petition.
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