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GREENWOOD Dist.–A month after a Tulsa judge dismissed the lawsuit from survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has agreed to hear their appeal.

The panel of nine justices will determine whether their case should be sent back to the district court for proper application of the law, according to a press release from attorneys representing “Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, “Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and “Uncle” Hughes Van Ellis, 102.

These last three known living survivors have been waiting over a century for the opportunity to have their day in court.

“They should be able to go to court and have a court of law determine what occurred and what it takes to fix or abate the nuisance created when 40 blocks were burned to the ground, over 1,500 homes and businesses were destroyed and never rebuilt,” lead attorney for the case and founder of Justice for Greenwood Foundation Damario Solomon-Simmons said after filing the appeal with the Court.

Civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons announces his team filed an appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking to overturn the decision by Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall to dismiss the historic reparations lawsuit for the three living survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. (Photo by Chris Creese/Creeseworks)

Attorneys call Tulsa Judge Caroline Wall’s dismissal “unlawful”

The Tulsa Historical Society describes how city-sanctioned destruction of Greenwood, home to the original Black Wall Street, was carried out by a White mob deputized by city government in a racial domestic terrorist attack in which over 300 Black men, women and children were massacred.

When it comes to reparations for the three living survivors and descendants, however, what and how to remedy the harm continues to be debated by those with the power to act. Yet according to today’s announcement, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has officially entered the chat.

In two previous cases, one directly after the Massacre and another in the early 2000s, courts declined to hear the case. The most recent attempt at financial restitution comes from Solomon-Simmons’ novel idea to use Oklahoma’s public nuisance law rather than federal law.

The state law specifies that a public nuisance “consists in unlawfully doing an act, or omitting to perform a duty, which act or omission…annoys, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, or safety of others.” Notably, federal law carries a statute of limitations, but Oklahoma’s public nuisance law doesn’t.

Therefore, when Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the case with prejudice on July 7, attorneys representing the survivors were shocked.

oklahoma supreme court
Left: Hughes Van Ellis, Viola Ford Fletcher, and Lessie Benningfield Randle | Courtesy of Nehemiah D. Frank Right: Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall (Campaign website)

In approving the City of Tulsa’s second motion to dismiss the case, Judge Wall claimed the plaintiffs failed to include a plan for how to remedy the harm. Meanwhile, attorneys for the survivors say Oklahoma law doesn’t require them to include that information before a trial has begun.

“It’s an impossible pleading standard and it has no basis in Oklahoma’s notice pleading code or decisional law,” said Randall Adams, co-counsel for Survivors and litigation partner at Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP.

Oklahoma Supreme Court to weigh in on historic case for reparations

Attorneys have not yet announced when the Oklahoma Supreme Court will hear the appeal, but the decision breathes more life into a case that the City of Tulsa has repeatedly tried to extinguish.

In a testament to their resilient spirit, the three living survivors continue to hold out hope for a victorious ruling. All three have been recognized internationally for their conviction. Fletcher, at 109, recently became the oldest living person to publish a memoir titled, “Don’t Let Them Bury My Story.” Randle is preparing to celebrate her 109th birthday on November 10, and Ellis, a World War II veteran, turns 103 on January 11.

“If this truly is a nation of laws and a state based on the law, then my clients, the last-known survivors of the massacre, should get the opportunity that no one else who suffered the devastation had the privilege of, Solomon-Simmons stated.

Attorneys for the survivors have asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to allow oral arguments during the appeal process.

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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