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GREENWOOD Dist.–Despite a rejection from Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall, the effort at reparative justice for the survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre continues after their attorneys filed an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday, August 4th.

Lead attorney for the case and founder of the Justice for Greenwood Foundation Damario Solomon-Simmons expressed confidence that the Oklahoma Supreme Court would reverse Judge Wall’s decision and allow a trial to proceed.

“They’ve been waiting just like every other victim and survivor of the Massacre for just an opportunity to have their day in court,” Solomon-Simmons said during a press conference on Monday, August 7th, in front of the Court in Oklahoma City. “If this truly is a nation of laws and a state that’s based upon the law, These clients, these survivors will get the opportunity that no one else who suffered the Massacre had.”

Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the Tulsa Race Massacre public nuisance lawsuit on Friday, July 7, 2023. | Photo taken by Nehemiah D. Frank for The Black Wall Street Times

In a move that appeared to contradict her earlier rulings allowing the case to proceed, Judge Wall tried to deal a death blow to the historic reparations case when she denied it with prejudice in July.

Tulsa Judge’s decision “didn’t feel consistent” with Oklahoma law

102 years after the city of Tulsa deputized a White mob to burn down 35 square blocks of Historic Greenwood District, home to the original Black Wall Street, three living survivors of the Massacre continue to hold out hope for their day in court.

“Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, “Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and “Uncle” Hughes Van Ellis, 102, await the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s pending decision, and in the process, stand as beacons of light for millions of anxious Black Americans who descend from survivors of White supremacist depravity.

“We went through several rounds of briefing and very clearly articulated what the law is in Oklahoma. And then to receive a decision that didn’t feel consistent with Oklahoma law is very frustrating,” Erika Simonson, Litigation Associate for Schulte Roth & Zabel, told The Black Wall Street Times on Tuesday.

Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the Tulsa Race Massacre lawsuit, which sought restitution for the worst city and state-sanctioned racial domestic violence attacked perpetrated on U.S. soil. She deleted her Twitter account following our coverage. On Twitter, she only followed three people, one of which was Donald Trump. When visiting her page, the follow suggestions for other similar pages included neo-Confederate groups.

The international New York-based law firm joined Justice for Greenwood to help work the case pro bono. They’ve questioned Judge Wall’s decision to dismiss the case with prejudice after previously ruling the survivors had standing to proceed.

Attorneys say Tulsa Judge Caroline Wall “backtracked”

In August of 2022, nearly two years after the case was first filed, Judge Wall denied the city of Tulsa’s motion to dismiss the case. She stripped descendants and other entities from the case, but she allowed the three living survivors to remain as plaintiffs.

Using Oklahoma public nuisance law, the attorneys argued that the survivors had standing, or just cause, to proceed under the state’s pleading code. In other words, the survivors passed the bar set by Oklahoma law to determine if they have a right to sue.

And on August 3, 2022, the judge agreed on page four of a 13-page order.

“The court finds Plaintiffs Randle, Fletcher and Van Ellis, Sr. meet this statutory criteria, at least to withstand a motion to dismiss under Oklahoma’s liberal pleading code,” Judge Wall ruled.

Less than a year later, on July 13, 2023, Judge Wall sided with the city of Tulsa’s second motion to dismiss the case.

“Upon hearing the arguments of counsel and considering the briefs filed by counsel for plaintiffs and counsel for defendants the court respectfully finds and order the plaintiffs’ second amended petition should and shall be dismissed with prejudice,” Judge Wall wrote.

Witnesses to the massacre described white mobs looting black homes and churches. The American Red Cross reported that out of 1,471 houses in Greenwood, 1,256 were burned and the rest looted. (NMAAHC, gift of Cassandra P. Johnson Smith)

Attorneys for survivors call judge’s ruling surprising

Attorneys for the city of Tulsa had argued that the case should be dismissed because the lawsuit didn’t lay out how Judge Wall should remedy the harm. Meanwhile, attorneys for Justice for Greenwood argued that state law doesn’t require them to provide those answers before a trial has even begun.

“The thing that we’ve never seen before is this real backtrack from the original decision,” Randall Adams, Litigation Partner Schulte Roth & Zabel told The Black Wall Street Times.

“That’s very surprising. That’s something you don’t really see in other courtrooms. We weren’t expecting Judge Wall to do this,” Adams added.

What’s next: Oklahoma Supreme Court to weigh in

When asked why they believe Judge Wall dismissed the lawsuit, Adams pointed out at least one thing that changed between her August 2022 order and her ruling in July 2023.

“If I had to speculate as to what changed, my speculation would be that around the Centennial (in 2021) there was this national focus around Tulsa. I think that that mattered a lot to the courts of Oklahoma as to what played out in our case,” Adams said. “And then as two years have gone by that national attention has evaporated. It feels like no one’s paying attention, and when no one’s paying attention these weird things can happen.”

Meanwhile, the team of attorneys say they expect the Oklahoma Supreme Court to move with more speed than Tulsa courts.

Next, the Oklahoma Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case themselves or whether to send the case to an intermediary court. Justice for Greenwood and their co-counsel also filed a motion to retain, asking the Supreme Court to hear it directly themselves with oral arguments.

If the Oklahoma Supreme Court reverses the dismissal of the case, attorneys say it will go back to Judge Wall for a discovery phase and ultimately, the first ever trial for survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

When asked how important this case is for the national reparations movement, Adams said it’s a big part.

“There’s been more interest and excitement about using public nuisance after our case so you will see more of those cases,” he said. “I think the trial and the public airing of the evidence is really the important part of that.”

We’ve reached out to Tulsa Mayor Bynum’s Office for a response. Follow The Black Wall Street Times for updates.

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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