The Oklahoma Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal challenging the dismissal of a lawsuit to secure reparations for the last three remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The decision comes after the lower state court dismissed the case in July, prompting the survivors to take the matter to the state’s highest judicial authority.
The attorney representing the survivors said his clients are pleased with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision, even though the exact hearing schedule is unknown.
Lessie Benningfield Randle (108 years old), Viola Fletcher (109 years old), and her brother Hughes Van Ellis (102 years old) have filed a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa.
The lone survivors are seeking reparations for the ongoing difficulties their families experienced after the tragic 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The trio resided in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, which was decimated during the racially motivated massacre.
Their lawsuit seeks relief for the damage inflicted during the massacre, labeling it a “public nuisance.” The survivors also seek to recover unjust enrichment gained through the exploitation of the tragic event.
Earlier, Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the case with prejudice based on the city’s argument that it should not be held liable. City officials contended that a mere historical association does not grant the right to seek compensation from any project connected to the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The victims turned to the state’s highest court, asking the justices to let them testify before they die. They insisted that they wanted to share their experiences of the massacre and how it affected them and the Greenwood community.
The survivors’ legal team argued that Judge Wall’s ruling imposed an unjust and impractical requirement on parties alleging public nuisance claims.
“If this truly is a nation of laws and a state based on the law, then my clients, the last known survivors of the massacre should be able to go to court and have a court of law determine what occurred,” asserted Damario Solomon-Simmons, a national civil rights attorney and founder of Justice for Greenwood.
He stressed the importance of survivors being able to bring their case to court to evaluate the harm and address the problems caused by the widespread destruction.
The survivors’ lawyers argued that the District Court’s ruling requires too much detail in requesting solutions for public nuisance claims, even before the legal proceedings are complete.
This requirement, they argued, is unsupported by Oklahoma’s notice pleading code or legal precedent. The lawyers also said that the District Court allowed the city to break a promise made in open court.
In that promise, city officials agreed not to file new motions to dismiss the survivors’ claims about unjust enrichment. However, the city filed another motion to dismiss, which the District Court erroneously granted.
“This is a fight for righteous justice and redress. It’s not about anything other than advancing this case according to the law as it is written,” Solomon-Simmons emphasized.
He called upon the Supreme Court to meticulously review the law and swiftly overturn Wall’s erroneous decision to dismiss the case.
Stacy M. Brown is the NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent