Black Tulsa Residents Sue the City 99 Years After the 1921 Race Massacre

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Sep 03, 2020

The 1921 Tulsa race massacre of Black residents by mobs of white men happened nearly a century ago but the descendants of those who either perished or were harmed are demanding restitution in a lawsuit filed against the city on September 1, the Washington Post reports.

“The massacre was one of the most heinous acts of racial terrorism committed in the U.S. by those in power against Black people since slavery,” Damario Solomon-Simmons, an attorney working on the case, told The Post. “White elected officials and business leaders not only failed to repair the injuries they caused, they engaged in conduct to deepen the injury and block repair.”

Solomon-Simmons is helping to lead a group of plaintiffs that includes 105-year-old massacre survivor Lessie Randle, descendants of survivors, Vernon AME Church and the Tulsa African Ancestral Society, Tulsa World reports. The lawsuit accuses the city, the Tulsa County Commission, the Oklahoma Military Department and other officials of an “ongoing nuisance” to the Greenwood community since the 1921 event. The race riot caused the death of hundreds and injured thousands. The 35 city blocks that encompassed Black Wall Street, as Greenwood was known, were burned to smoldering ashes. 

The lawsuit states what happened after the city was set on fire:

Following the Massacre, Defendants exacerbated the damage and suffering of the Greenwood residents. Defendants unlawfully detained thousands of Greenwood survivors and enacted unconstitutional laws that deprived Greenwood residents use of  their property. From the period immediately after the Massacre until the present day, Defendants actively and unlawfully thwarted the community’s efforts to rebuild, neglecting the Greenwood and predominately Black, North Tulsa communities. Instead, Defendants redirected public resources to benefit the overwhelmingly White parts of Tulsa. 

And, given how Oklahoma itself used sued opioid manufacturers in its public health crisis, defendants seek to give the Sooner State a bit of its own medicine.

“Once we saw the state of Oklahoma was successful with the opioid case using the ‘public nuisance’ theory, we thought it was a theory that could work in our case,” Solomon-Simmons told the Post. “We feel confident that city and state officials created a public nuisance by failing to protect Black people during the massacre.”

To read the complete lawsuit, click here.