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After 101 years of destruction and denial, a civil rights attorney seeking justice and reparations for Greenwood will have one final opportunity to secure a trial for his public nuisance lawsuit when he goes before Tulsa County Judge Caroline Wall on Monday, May 2, 2022, at 1:30 p.m. in room 605 of the Tulsa County Courthouse.
The three last known living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre (Viola Ford Fletcher, 107, her brother Hughs Van Ellis, 101, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 107) will be in attendance at the court hearing. Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons recognizes it may be their last time all in the same room seeking justice, and he’d like to see a packed courtroom full of community supporters.
“People who believe in Justice for Greenwood and want to stand with survivors, this is your opportunity. This may be the only time ever to be in a courtroom supporting these people,” attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons told The Black Wall Street Times in a video interview.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for the community as the May 2nd court hearing will determine whether attorney Solomon-Simmons’ “public nuisance” lawsuit against the city of Tulsa and other entities will go to trial. If successful, a team of lawyers at Justice for Greenwood will lay out a case for restitution that could be replicated in cities across the nation.
Survivors still remember the smoke from May 31, 1921. They seek reparations
Attorneys for the city have argued that the last living survivors and descendants of the massacre have no standing to sue.
Yet, survivor “Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher testified last year at a Congressional subcommittee. She told lawmakers she still remembers the smell of smoke from May 31, 1921, when thousands of deputized White men burned, bombed, looted and killed hundreds of Black men, women and children of the most wealthy Black district in the country, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Tulsa Historical Society and documents housed at the University of Tulsa.
“I will never forget the violence of the White mob when we left our home,” Viola (Mother) Fletcher testified. “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street, I still smell smoke and see fire.”
Leading up to the May 2nd court hearing, the Justice for Greenwood Foundation has organized events highlighting the historic fight for reparations. It’s a moment that will have implications for the city of Tulsa, the state of Oklahoma, and an entire nation that has for hundreds of years failed to secure restorative justice to the enslaved Black Africans who were forced to build foundational wealth that they would never enjoy themselves.
Events leading up to historic court hearing
Thursday, April 28: The Justice for Greenwood Foundation, Tulsa City Councilwoman Vanessa Hall-Harper, the Terence Crutcher Foundation, descendants of the Massacre, the Worldwondevelopment and former Tulsa mayoral candidate Greg Robinson will host a press conference at the Greenwood Cultural Center at noon central time. The Black Wall Street Times will also livestream the event on Instagram.
Thursday, April 28: Later that day, the Justice for Greenwood Foundation will host a virtual town hall at 7 p.m. central time. To view the town hall, visit justiceforgreenwood.org/stream.
Saturday, April 30: Community members will meet at the corner of Greenwood and Archer on Black Wall Street in Tulsa’s Greenwood District at 12 p.m. central time to “stand in solidarity with the first residents of the once wealthy neighborhood,” according to the Foundation.
Sunday, May 1: Churches that lived through the 1921 Massacre will come together to provide guidance, love and prayer ahead of the May 2nd court hearing. Community members will meet at the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church, located at 419 N. Elgin Ave., at 6:30 p.m. central time.
On Monday, May 2nd, Justice for Greenwood is asking residents to meet at 1 p.m. outside the Tulsa County Courthouse ahead of the 1:30 hearing.
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons leans on public nuisance argument
For Solomon-Simmons, whose own family history is full of Tulsa civil rights leaders dating back 90 years, the May 2nd court hearing represents a culmination of decades of legal study and practice preparing him for the moment he will argue for reparative justice on behalf of his community.
After first submitting his petition in September of 2021, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said he received positive news when he learned the Oklahoma Supreme Court had overturned a ruling against opioids manufacturers that were being sued for the opioid crisis.
Oklahoma’s highest court struck down the ruling because the state didn’t sufficiently argue that the manufacturers had created a “public nuisance.”
While it meant no one would pay for that health crisis, Solomon-Simmons believed the ruling strengthened his own lawsuit against Tulsa because he is using a public nuisance law to argue for reparations for Greenwood, something that has never before been tried.
Attorney Solomon-Simmons was a young lawyer in training when he watched as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an attempt at reparations for Greenwood in 2005. Using the public nuisance argument, based on Oklahoma state law, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons believes he’ll be successful.
“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 law.
Tulsa gaslights Black community 101 years after Tulsa Race Massacre, attorney says
While Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum has told Vice that taxpayers today shouldn’t pay for a crime that took place 100 years ago, Oklahoma’s public nuisance law appears to indicate that Solomon-Simmons’ lawsuit has standing to move forward.
“The abatement of a nuisance does not prejudice the right of any person to recover damages for its past existence…No lapse of time can legalize a public nuisance, amounting to an actual obstruction of public right,” the law states.
Following the opioid ruling, attorney Solomon-Simmons filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority “requesting that Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall grant him the opportunity to fully brief the J&J Decision and schedule a hearing on the matter.”
With the May 2nd court hearing set in stone, Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons is finally getting a chance to prove his case for reparations is worth pursuing.
When asked about the city’s superficial efforts to paint a rosy picture of unity during last year’s 100 Year Centennial of the Massacre, Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons told The Black Wall Street Times the city has been “gaslighting” the Black community for years.
“[Greenwood is] owned by the same basic power structure that destroyed Greenwood. They make all the money. They make all the revenue while the Black community continues to suffer, continues to have terrible roads, terrible schools, terrible healthcare, terrible policing. But they want to say Greenwood is rising? OK, this is the biggest gaslighting of all time,” Solomon-Simmons said.
For their part, the Tulsa City Council apologized for the city’s role in the Tulsa Massacre at a packed city council meeting in 2021, during the Centennial. It represented the first public apology from the City Council in 100 years. In front of the eyes of national media and Rev. Jesse Jackson himself, city councilors passed a watered-down resolution promising to create a task force that would entertain restorative justice in north Tulsa. Yet, after failing to meet their own six-month deadline, the City Council continues to keep the community waiting.
Fighting for reparations for the last three known survivors and descendants
With the city actively fighting against reparations, and the state of Oklahoma content with staying silent altogether, the weight of the community’s hope for justice rests on the shoulders of attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons and his team.
“At the end of the day, we’re fighting for our entire community, we’re fighting for all the community of descendants throughout the nation, but we have three living survivors. They’re special. They’re special. That’s it,” Solomon-Simmons said.