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Tulsa Race Massacre survivors make final plea to Oklahoma Supreme Court

Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Viola Fletcher, down-center, looks on as attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, left, speaks to reporters about the status of the race massacre survivors' reparations case on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, on the steps of the Oklahoma Supreme Court building in Oklahoma City.
Max Bryan
/
OPMX
Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Viola Fletcher, down-center, looks on as attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, left, speaks to reporters about the status of the race massacre survivors' reparations case on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, on the steps of the Oklahoma Supreme Court building in Oklahoma City.

Attorneys representing the two remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre filed a final brief in their reparations case with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday. They now await the high court's decision on whether to let their lawsuit proceed.

A white mob killed as many as 300 people and razed the prosperous Tulsa neighborhood known as Black Wall Street in 1921. Plaintiffs Viola Fletcher, 109, Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and the late Hughes "Uncle Redd" Van Ellis filed the lawsuit in 2020. They are asking for reparations from five defendants, including the city of Tulsa, on grounds the massacre created an ongoing public nuisance.

On July 7, Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the lawsuit, favoring the defendants' arguments that the massacre did not create an ongoing nuisance in Tulsa. Wall said the survivors did not outline a specific remedy for if they won the case — an opinion supported by the state attorney general's office.

At a news conference on the state Supreme Court steps Monday afternoon, attorney for the survivors Damario Solomon-Simmons argued the legal team articulated a specific remedy, but also claimed Oklahoma law does not require plaintiffs to give detailed remedies in civil cases.

"We're not looking for a miracle. We're just looking for them to apply the law as written," he said.

Solomon-Simmons also said crimes committed during the massacre including murder, burglary and arson destroyed or otherwise made properties uninhabitable, creating an ongoing public nuisance.

The survivors' brief comes roughly a month after Van Ellis died at 102.

"(It) was always their intention to drag this out as long as possible," Solomon-Simmons said. "I mean, when we started, Mother Fletcher was 106, Mother Randle was 105, Uncle Redd was 100. They're just playing the math and saying, 'There's no way these people will still be here.' But we're still here, and even though Uncle Redd's not physically with us, his estate is still with us, and we're going to continue to push this issue until we get justice."

Solomon-Simmons said the legal team has "no idea" when the court will issue a ruling, but hopes for one soon.

“There is nowhere else for us to go," he said. "There is no going to the United States Supreme Court. There is no going to the federal court system. This is it.”

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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