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Tulsa Massacre Survivors and the Fight for Reparations

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jul 13, 2023 | 0 Comments

An Oklahoma judge dismissed the lawsuit last Friday that would have granted reparations for the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.

3 survivors who made the lawsuit in 2020, Lessie Benningfield Randle, Viola Fletcher and Hughes Van Ellis, did not come from a simplified background – they endured a racial genocide that barely happened over 100 years ago.

White terrorists raided the Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31, 2021, a town that was grandly known as Black Wall Street. Lots of amazing people with hustling businesses and cultural embankments that shined the area with success, it was growing area for Black excellence.

The town was burned to the ground with nothing to recover. 300 people were killed, 6,000 were arrested, and 9,000 were left homeless with deepened struggles to face later that year's winter. No accountability was taken as well as harsh protest on rebuilding the city. Restitution for decades was an absolute impossibility.

The importance of teaching about this horrific massacre is a sacred lesson on police violence and the destruction of Black wealth that is prevented to be discussed in classrooms across the country today. Its history is the truth, and African American dispossession is extremely apparent in today's climate.

According to Rethinking Schools, in 1997, Oklahoma State Rep. Don Ross proposed reparations totaling $5 million for the survivors and descendants. With the Tulsa Race Riot Commission that same year, produced a 2001 report arguing for reparations, but the state legislature and the city of Tulsa blocked any reparations to the survivors according to Rethinking Schools

Another attempt was made in 2003 in filing for reparations, by a legal team led by Professor Charles Ogletree Jr. from Harvard Law School and Johnnie Cochran under the 2001 report made by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. Yet, it was rejected due to the statute of limitations.

Monuments and special recognitions were made as the years passed, but legislators or politicians didn't put attention on the priority for reparations despite public attention. It wasn't until 2015 where the discussion of how reparations can be approached and distributed for Black communities based on legal cases, where Chicago won reparations for victims of the Chicago Police Department's campaign of torture and its connection to white supremacy.

Per People Magazine, in May 2021, President Joe Biden issued an official proclamation declaring a "Day of Remembrance" to mark the 100th anniversary of the massacre and calling on Americans to "reflect on the deep roots of racial terror in our Nation and recommit to the work of rooting out systemic racism across our country."

This lawsuit was filed on the account of the survivors not being compensated by the city and insurance companies for the suffering and damages of the massacre. The reparations that were claimed to be given included investigating how many actual losses were from that disaster and uncovering the hidden graves of those who didn't make it, a victims' compensation fund, and the construction of the hospital in North Tulsa that was built from the efforts of African-Americans.

Judge Caroline Wall found that "upon hearing the arguments of counsel and considering the briefs filed by counsel for plaintiffs and counsel for defendants" the plaintiffs' Second Amendment petition "should and shall be" dismissed with prejudice, court records show.

There is an expectation for an appeal to be made by the survivors' attorneys.

Ed Mitzen, who made a private $1 million donation to the three survivors, told CNN on Saturday, "The Oklahoma State government should be ashamed of itself for not doing right by these three wonderful people, one of whom fought for this country in World War II." (KCRA)

The justice that the survivors seek isn't a reach, it's a small step in accountability for the torture that Black Americans and their descendants have faced in this country for the past 400+ years.

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