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Oklahoma court dismisses lawsuit for Tulsa Massacre survivors

Oklahoma court dismisses lawsuit for Tulsa Massacre survivors

The last known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre in a 2021 image

Only two known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre remain – Lessie Benningfield Randle, 109 (left) and Viola Fletcher, 110 (center); a third, Hughes Van Ellis (right), died last year at 102. (Getty Images)

Survivors of one of the worst racial massacres in US history have lost their historic legal bid for reparations over the attack.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed the lawsuit filed in 2020 by a trio of survivors.

An estimated 300 black Americans were killed when a mob of whites ravaged the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921.

Only two known survivors remain – Viola Fletcher, 110, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 109. The third, Hughes Van Ellis, died last year at 102.

The plaintiffs brought their case under Oklahoma public law, alleging that the violence and destruction wrought on “Black Wall Street” more than a century ago continues to resonate today.

The Tulsa County Sheriff, county commissioners and the Oklahoma Military Department were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

In its ruling Wednesday, the state’s highest court sided with Tulsa officials, saying the plaintiffs’ grievances did not entitle them to damages.

“With respect to their public nuisance claim, although plaintiffs’ grievances are legitimate, they do not fall within the scope of our state’s public nuisance statute,” the court wrote.

In doing so, the nine-judge bench upheld the identical ruling of a lower court judge last July.

The judge concluded that “simply being connected to a historical event does not give a person unlimited rights to seek damages.”

The city of Tulsa said in a statement that it “respects the court’s decision and affirms the significance of the work the city continues to do in the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities.”

The city added that it remains committed “to working with residents and providing resources to support” these communities.

No one was held responsible for the violent events of May 31, 1921.

In addition to the estimated 300 deaths, thousands of black residents were assaulted, arrested, and left homeless.

This case is likely the last opportunity for Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Randle to receive compensation for the Tulsa race massacre.

“You can’t go to the United States Supreme Court. You don’t go to the federal court system. That’s it,” their attorney, Damario Solomon-Simmons, previously argued in a legal brief.

After Wednesday’s decision, the legal team representing Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Randle said they plan to petition the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rehear the case and reconsider its decision.