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GREENWOOD Dist.–Tulsa Race Massacre survivor “Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle turned 109 with the taste of barbecue and sweet potato pie on her tongue Friday, but she believes justice would be sweeter.

“I would like to see all of my people here that are trying to make this situation better bring some of those things to life, so people will know that this really is true,” Randle told Good Morning America on October 18.

“There’s room for a lot more improvement,” she said.

tulsa survivor 109
Lessie Benningfield Randle enjoys BBQ and sweet potato pie on her 109th birthday. (Courtesy of Dr. Tiffany Crutcher)

As one of just two last known living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, “mother” Randle joins the rank of fellow 109-year-old survivor “Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher.

Randle was just six years old when a White mob, deputized by city of Tulsa police, rampaged through the Greenwood District.

The government-sanctioned domestic terror attack resulted in the destruction of over 36 square blocks, over 1,200 homes, over 200 businesses. The racist mob ultimately killed upwards of 300 Black men, women and children.

Sadly, Friday also marks the day the community of Greenwood will commemorate the life of “Mother” Fletcher’s little brother. “Uncle Red” Hughes Van Ellis, a World War II veteran, passed away at 102 on October 9.

The two remaining centenarians continue to wait for what could be their last chance at justice. The Oklahoma Supreme Court could either uphold the dismissal, order oral arguments from both sides, or immediately reverse the dismissal.

Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, a descendant of survivors who leads the Terence Crutcher Foundation, asked “Mother” Randle her secret to living so long.

“Hard work and clean living,” Randle said.

Lessie Benningfield Randle, left, celebrates her birthday with Dr. Tiffany Crutcher. (Courtesy of Dr. Tiffany Crutcher)

“Mother” Randle’s special day comes as the world waits for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s next move.

The court’s consideration of the appeal comes months after Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the public nuisance lawsuit with prejudice in July.

Ultimately, she claimed the plaintiffs didn’t adequately argue how the court could remedy the century-old harm, even though Oklahoma law doesn’t require that information before a trial, attorneys for the survivors say.

If the Oklahoma Supreme Court dismisses the appeal, the case can’t be brought up again. On Nov. 6, Justice for Greenwood attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who represents the survivors, filed his final brief in the case.

“She needs to see justice in this lifetime. So does Mother Fletcher. That’s what they need to see in this lifetime while they’re still alive.”

Randle’s granddaughter, Ladonna Penny told GMA
“Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle, spoke to Good Morning America on October 18 about her desire for justice as the Oklahoma Supreme Court considers her case. (Justice for Greenwood Foundation)

The ball is in Oklahoma Supreme Court’s hands

Attorney Solomon-Simmons is urging the high court to rule quickly, given the death of survivor Hughes Van Ellis. After over a century of denying even the opportunity to try the case in court, many fear Oklahoma courts are waiting for the survivors to die.

“Indeed, the Survivors waited 33 months for the District Court to resolve the various motions to dismiss, only to have their case dismissed on grounds that not even Appellees can defend,” attorney Solomon-Simmons and his team wrote in the Nov. 6 brief.

“Simply put, the Survivors are being held to standards that other Oklahoma litigants are not. The District Court’s dismissal for failure to state a proper remedy is plainly wrong, and should be swiftly reversed.”

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has no set schedule to respond to appeals. Supporters of the 109-year-old Tulsa Race Massacre survivors can only hope the high court rules in their favor as soon as possible.

To view the court documents, visit Oklahoma State Courts Network.

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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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