Group suing for Tulsa Race Massacre damages

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 09/02/2020, 12:37 PM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(TULSA, Okla.) As the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre grows closer, a group is calling for the City of Tulsa and several others to repair the damage caused by that historic event. Court records show Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon Simmons represents the following plaintiffs: Lessie Benningfield “Mother” Randle, who at 105 is one of the two known Massacre survivors still living. Vernon A.M.E., the only standing Black-owned structure from the Historic Black Wall Street era and the only edifice that remains from the Massacre. Laurel Stradford, great-granddaughter of J.B. Stradford who owned the Stradford Hotel in Greenwood, the largest Black-owned hotel in the United States at the time of the Massacre. Ellouise Cochrane-Price, the daughter of Massacre survivor Clarence Rowland and the cousin of Massacre victim Dick Rowland. Tedra Williams, the granddaughter of Massacre survivor Wess Young. Don M. Adams, the nephew of Massacre victim Dr. A.C. Jackson. Don W. Adams, great-grandson of Massacre survivor Attorney H.A. Guess. Stephen Williams, grandson of Massacre victim Attorney A.J. Smitherman who owned the nationally circulated Tulsa Star Newspaper. The Tulsa African Ancestral Society, whose membership includes descendants of Massacre survivors. Solomon-Simmons is the leader of Greenwood Advocates, a team of civil and human rights lawyers handling the lawsuit. Court documents state “this lawsuit seeks to remedy the ongoing nuisance caused by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in the Greenwood District of Tulsa and to obtain benefits unjustly received by Defendants based on the massacre.” The defendants listed in the case are the City of Tulsa, the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Tulsa Development Authority County, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Vic Regalado in his official capacity of Sheriff of Tulsa County and the Oklahoma Military Department (National Guard branch). Oklahoma law defines a nuisance as “unlawfully doing an act, or omitting to perform a duty, which act or omission . . . annoys, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, or safety of others . . . or . . . [i]n any way renders other persons insecure in life, or in the use of property.” In a press release provided to VNN, Solomon-Simmons said the massacre itself was just the beginning of the nuisance. “The Chamber joined with the other defendants in the immediate aftermath of the Massacre to impose martial law and coordinate the detention of the Massacre victims in internment camps, only releasing them to work if sponsored by white employers,” Solomon-Simmons said. “The City, County, the Sheriff, and the Chamber of Commerce tried illegally to block Black Tulsans' attempts to rebuild the Greenwood District. In the Decades following the Massacre, these defendants sought to quash any mention of the Massacre, fearing the impact it would have on the City and region’s reputation. The Tulsa Metropolitan Planning Commission acted along with the City and County to isolate the Black community from the rest of Tulsa and fragment the community through city planning initiatives that destroyed the integrity of the Black community. "The Tulsa Development Authority and its predecessor unjustly used their urban renewal powers to take property from Greenwood residents to make way for I-244 despite other viable alternatives. The Interstate divided the Greenwood neighborhood and community in two, creating a physical barrier between the North side, which had an overwhelmingly Black population, from the rest of the city, and displaced many hundreds of families and businesses.” The lawsuit also cited several examples of detrimental mental and physical health effects the nuisance has caused for Black community members.
We reached out to some of the defendants for comment. The Oklahoma National Guard’s Office of Public Affairs sent us this statement: "There are widely varying accounts of the role played by the National Guard during the events of late May and early June 1921 in the Greenwood District. However, the historical record shows that a handful of Guardsmen protected the Tulsa armory and the weapons inside from more than 300 rioters. The actions of these Guardsmen substantially reduced the number of deaths in the Greenwood District. In the days following the riots, Oklahoma Guardsmen restored order to the area and prevented further attacks by both black and white Tulsans. Due to pending litigation, the Oklahoma National Guard will offer no further comment on this subject." TSCO and the City of Tulsa both declined to comment since the matter involves pending litigation. To read the full lawsuit document text, click here: Check back for updates.


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