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GREENWOOD, Okla.–At 107 years old, Viola Ford Fletcher still remembers the sound of Black men being shot in the street as an angry White mob stole, burned, bombed, killed and destroyed Black Wall Street. She still remembers the smell of smoke as 35 square blocks of her community went up in flames.

Most cruelly, Mother Fletcher can still hear the screams. 

“I’ve lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not,” she testified to a House Judiciary Subcommittee during the Centennial anniversary of The Tulsa Race Massacre in May 2021.

Though the White mob that burned down Greenwood was deputized and supported by local officials and the State of Oklahoma, neither has provided financial restitution to survivors and descendants of the Massacre.

A century and change later, one lawmaker hopes to change that. 

reparations ghana tulsa race massacre horse drawn carriage lessie benningfield randle
The last three known living survivors in a horse-drawn carriage during commemoration events honoring the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Hughes Van Ellis (left), Lessie Benningfield Randle (center) and Viola Fletcher (right).(Mike Creef / The Black Wall Street Times)

Reparations bill filed in Oklahoma

Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) has filed a bill that would provide restitution in the amount of $300 million. First reported by Public Radio TulsaHB 4152 would create funding to “ implement a program of reparations for damages to persons and property during the events of approximately May 31 through June 1, 1921, in the City of Tulsa…”

Last summer, during commemoration events in Tulsa, President Biden visited Historic Greenwood, a first for a sitting president.

Yet, Rep. Regina Goodwin was clear in her desire to see further action beyond speeches and photo ops.

“We appreciate where we are but we have to get to reparation, we have to get to restitution. Beyond the commemoration, we need some commemor-action,” Goodwin told The Black Wall Street Times last year.

As political leaders embrace economic development, install landmarks, and erect museums, a community forever changed by a horrific government-sanctioned attack continues to wait for financial restitution. Even as the city honored the 100-year anniversary of the Massacre in 2021, city attorneys continue their attempt to silence a reparations lawsuit. 

tulsa race massacre reparations
Viola Fletcher, the oldest living survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre, testifies before the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hearing on “Continuing Injustice: The Centennial of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre” on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 19, 2021. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Seeking justice on multiple fronts

Civil Rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons has expressed confidence that his reparations lawsuit on behalf of the last three living survivors of the Massacre will succeed.

Using a state law known as public nuisance, Attorney Solomon-Simmons isn’t waiting for legislation.

“A public nuisance is one which affects at the same time an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon the individuals may be unequal,” according to Oklahoma Statutes.

Tulsa Race Massacre reparations
African Americans outside the entrance to a refugee camp in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after being displaced by the city’s race massacre of 1921. |
American National Red Cross Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Rep. Regina Goodwin’s bill would give legislators the choice to voluntarily right a 100-year-old wrong.

Still, with Republicans holding a supermajority in the state legislature, doubt remains high that such an historic law would be passed in Oklahoma. Either way, placing the bill on the floor would create a record of where each legislator stands on the issue of justice.

For her part, Rep. Goodwin hopes her colleagues will see this opportunity not as a partisan issue, but as a chance to do “what is right.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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