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Tulsa Race Massacre lawsuit moves forward with narrowed focus

Race Massacre survivors
Posted at 10:15 AM, Aug 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 11:18:57-04

TULSA, Okla. — A Tulsa County judge narrowed the case brought by Justice for Greenwood, the organization suing several city entities in response to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Attorneys for Justice for Greenwood say the ruling by Judge Caroline Wall provides the framework for how they’ll move forward.

Attorney Michael Swartz says the core of their case remains alive.

“I want to emphasize how incredibly gratified we are by the court’s decision,” said Swartz.

Swartz says they’ll be able to take the next step that hasn’t been achieved before when it comes to getting justice for the victims of the Race Massacre.

“Taking discovery, taking documents, taking depositions and getting to the root of what actually happened in the massacre,” said Swartz.

The ruling by Judge Caroline Wall was released late Wednesday. Attorneys will be able to amend their petition for abatement.

“The abatement will be for the restoration and the rebuilding of what was lost because of the massacre,” said Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons.

Solomon-Simmons, founder of Justice for Greenwood, says the massacre caused a public nuisance. Solomon-Simmons says the three remaining survivors, Lessie Benningfield Randle, Viola Fletcher, and Hughes Van Ellis will have the ability to move forward and get the opportunity to prove the massacre created a nuisance and that nuisance needs to be abated.

“We are mindful that the three plaintiffs that we have, the three living survivors of the massacre are all over 100 years old,” said Solomon-Simmons. “We owe it to them, the community owes it to them to move forward as promptly as possible,” said Swartz.

The judge did dismiss several portions of the case like some of the defendants and plaintiffs. The only three plaintiffs allowed to sue are the three remaining survivors, Randle, Fletcher, and Van Ellis.

The historic Vernon AME Church was removed from the lawsuit by the judge. Court documents say, “The court finds the named Plaintiff, ‘Historic Vernon A.M.E Church, Inc.’, lacks standing to sue in this matter.”

“We believe 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,” said Attorney Randall Adams.

Another portion that was denied was the claim of an “ongoing public nuisance” stemming from the massacre.

Court documents say “As to the claims of 'ongoing' public nuisance for events in the decades subsequent to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre the court finds these 'ongoing' claims of public nuisance must be dismissed with prejudge because these claims request relief that violates the separation of powers provided by the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma.”

Justice for Greenwood attorneys have until Sept. 2 to file an amended petition. The attorneys are hoping to get the petition finished before that date.

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