Is this Lawsuit the Last Hope for Justice for Survivors of the Tulsa Massacre?Breaking News
tags: African American history, lawsuits, reparations, Tulsa race massacre
“I am 107 years old and I have never seen justice. I pray that one day I will.” That was the hope expressed by Viola Ford Fletcher, the oldest survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre when she testified in May before Congress about her memories of May 31 and June 1, 1921 when she — just 7 years old — witnessed a White mob go on a murderous rampage that obliterated the thriving Black neighborhood of Greenwood. Last week, Ms. Fletcher — along with the two other survivors of that terrible night — sat in a courtroom in Oklahoma and listened to arguments that may well determine if there will ever be the justice she has sought.
At issue in the hearing before Oklahoma District Court Judge Caroline Wall was whether a lawsuit seeking reparations brought by survivors and descendants of the massacre, one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history, will be allowed to proceed to trial. Defendants in the landmark case, including the city of Tulsa and the regional chamber of commerce, have pushed for the case to be dismissed. Previous efforts to obtain restitution have failed. They included a 2003 suit that was blocked due to expiration of the statute of limitations. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to make it easier for the massacre claims to be pressed, but its prospects are unclear.
So hopes of the survivors and descendants are riding on the new lawsuit that is built on the argument that the massacre is an “ongoing nuisance” and its effects are still felt by Black residents. Included here: unemployment among Black Tulsans is more than double that of White people in the city; the median household income for Black residents is $20,000 less than their White counterparts; only 34.8 percent of Black residents own their homes, compared to 58 percent of White residents. Lawyers for the massacre survivors and descendants pointed out the same legal theory of public nuisance was successfully used by Oklahoma in the state’s lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company for its role in the opioid epidemic.
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