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In a disheartening turn of events, Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall recently granted the City of Tulsa Attorneys’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: Mother Lessie Benningfield Randle, aged 108, Mother Viola Ford Fletcher, aged 109, and Uncle Hughes Van Ellis, aged 102.
Judge Wall’s decision to dismiss this monumental case dealt yet another devastating blow to the memory of a century-old crime that ravaged the Greenwood District, claimed the lives of three hundred Black residents, and shattered the dreams of countless Black entrepreneurs.
For us, the descendants of Greenwood, her verdict serves as a painful reminder that justice continues to elude us. We foresaw that Judge Wall would succumb not to the principles of law but to the prevailing cultural norms of the society in which she was raised.
How Judge Wall’s Decision Follows Tulsa’s White Supremacy Tradition
When examining the history, it becomes apparent that the very foundation of the local government is tainted. The presence of the Ku Klux Klan permeated nearly every level of authority, including the judiciary. Judges, who are meant to uphold justice, were themselves members of an organization driven by hate and prejudice. This deeply compromises the integrity of the local judicial system and erodes public trust even to this day.
During the 1920s, Tulsa was plagued by the presence of the Ku Klux Klan, infiltrating every level of local government, including the judiciary—judges such as Judge Luther James, Judge Jno. P. Boyd and Judge W.N. Randolph were all members of this hateful organization. These judges denied justice to Greenwood citizens following the Tulsa Race Massacre.
In light of the prevailing circumstances, it raises legitimate concerns about the moral and legal authority of any entity within the Tulsa government to pass impartial judgment, including the judiciary branch. The systemic issues that plagued the entire local government are deserving of their own trial.
Why Judge Caroline Wall’s Decision Erodes Public Trust
Given this troubling context, it becomes increasingly difficult to place faith in the ability of the Tulsa government to render unbiased judgments. The very institution that should have safeguarded justice and fairness was complicit in perpetrating a horrific act of racial violence, the repercussions of which continue to be felt with Judge Caroline Wall’s latest decision to dismiss.
The question arises: How can we expect a system that was so inherently flawed and corrupted to deliver justice to the last known living survivors of the Massacre? It is not merely a matter of one judge’s decision but a systemic issue that demands examination and redress. The entire framework of the local government during that time, and even today, warrants scrutiny and accountability.
The bad guys won the battle, but they won’t win the war
This latest development reinforces the perception that the forces of injustice have once again prevailed. Nevertheless, we, as Black Tulsans and descendants of Greenwood, have long anticipated Judge Wall’s outcome.
However, in emotionally difficult times such as this, I draw strength, leaning on this message that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.
Hence, this setback will not deter our fight for justice and equity as we draw strength from the resilience of our ancestors and remain steadfast in our pursuit of justice and a more equitable Tulsa.
Nehemiah D. Frank, Founder & Editor-in-Chief and Greenwood Descendant