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1921 Tulsa Oklahoma Race Massacre Survivors Denied Reparations In Recent Court Ruling.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, also known as the Tulsa Race Riot, was one of the most devastating episodes of racial violence in American history.

It took place in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, an affluent African American community often referred to as “Black Wall Street.”

On 6/ 12 / 2024 Oklahoma's highest court upheld a lower court's decision, stating that "simply being connected to a historical event does not provide a person with unlimited rights to seek compensation." This ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Viola Fletcher and Lessie Benningfield Randle, along with the late Hughes Van Ellis, had sought reparations for the devastation inflicted on Greenwood, a thriving Black community, during the massacre.

They pursued punitive damages, a compensation fund, and a scholarship for descendants of Greenwood residents, arguing that the massacre and subsequent failures to rebuild and provide justice constituted a public nuisance .

The court's decision highlights the legal challenges in seeking reparations for historical injustices, emphasizing the complexities involved in establishing a direct and legally recognized right to compensation based on historical connections alone.

In the early 20th century, Greenwood was a prosperous community with thriving businesses, residential areas, schools, and churches. Many Black residents migrated to Tulsa in search of better opportunities and were able to build a self-sufficient economy despite the prevailing racial segregation.

The immediate trigger for the massacre occurred on May 30, 1921, when a young Black man named Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a white woman. Rowland was arrested the next day, and rumors of a possible lynching spread rapidly.

On May 31, 1921, as tensions rose, a white mob gathered outside the courthouse where Rowland was held. Armed African American men arrived to protect Rowland, leading to a confrontation. Shots were fired, and the outnumbered Black men retreated to Greenwood.

On June 1, 1921, In the early hours, white mobs, some deputized by local authorities and armed by city officials, began a full-scale assault on Greenwood. Homes and businesses were looted and burned, and residents were attacked. Airplanes were reportedly used to drop incendiary devices and shoot at residents.

Casualties and Damage estimates of the number of people killed range from 100 to 300, with many more injured. Over 35 city blocks, including more than 1,000 homes and numerous businesses, were destroyed. Thousands of Black residents were left homeless.

In the immediate aftermath, martial law was declared, and the National Guard was deployed to restore order. Many survivors were interned in camps. The official response to the massacre was primarily to blame the Black community for the violence, and no one was prosecuted for the attacks.

The survivors and their descendants faced economic hardship, and efforts to rebuild Greenwood were hampered by systemic racism and lack of support. The massacre was primarily omitted from historical accounts for many decades.

There has been a longstanding tendency to minimize or deny the impact of slavery and systemic racism in American history. This denial impedes efforts to achieve justice and recognize the ongoing effects of these injustices.

Voting at the local level is a powerful means for African Americans to seek justice and equity within the political and legal systems. It enables the community to elect leaders who prioritize their interests, advocate for fair policies, and hold officials accountable.

While challenges remain, local voting, coupled with grassroots mobilization and sustained advocacy, can drive meaningful change and contribute to a fairer and more just society.


1. NPR: "Oklahoma's highest court dismisses a case seeking reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre"

2. AP News: "Court rejects reparations lawsuit from Tulsa Race Massacre survivors"

3. CNN: "Oklahoma Supreme Court rules against reparations for Tulsa Race Massacre survivors"

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