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Oklahoma judge throws out a suit seeking reparations for the Tulsa Race Massacre

In this 1921 image provided by the Library of Congress, smoke billows over Tulsa, Okla.
Alvin C. Krupnick Co.
/
AP
In this 1921 image provided by the Library of Congress, smoke billows over Tulsa, Okla.

An Oklahoma judge has thrown out a lawsuit seeking reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, dashing an effort to obtain some measure of legal justice by survivors of the deadly racist rampage.

Judge Caroline Wall on Friday dismissed with prejudice the lawsuit trying to force the city and others to make recompense for the destruction of the once-thriving Black district known as Greenwood.

The order comes in a case by three survivors of the attack, who are all now over 100 years old and sued in 2020 with the hope of seeing what their attorney called "justice in their lifetime."

Spokespersons for the city of Tulsa and a lawyer for the survivors — Lessie Benningfield Randle, Viola Fletcher and Hughes Van Ellis — did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Wall, a Tulsa County District Court, wrote in a brief order that she was tossing the case based on arguments from the city, regional chamber of commerce and other state and local government agencies. She'd ruled against the defendants' motions to dismiss and allowed the case to proceed last year.

Local judicial elections in Oklahoma are technically nonpartisan, but Wall has described herself as a "Constitutional Conservative" in past campaign questionnaires.

The lawsuit was brought under Oklahoma's public nuisance law, saying the actions of the white mob that killed hundreds of Black residents and destroyed what had been the nation's most prosperous Black business district continue to affect the city today.

It contended that Tulsa's long history of racial division and tension stemmed from the massacre, during which an angry white mob descended on a 35-block area, looting, killing and burning it to the ground. Beyond those killed, thousands more were left homeless and living in a hastily constructed internment camp.

The city and insurance companies never compensated victims for their losses, and the massacre ultimately resulted in racial and economic disparities that still exist today, the lawsuit argued. It sought a detailed accounting of the property and wealth lost or stolen in the massacre, the construction of a hospital in north Tulsa and the creation of a victims compensation fund, among other things.

A Chamber of Commerce attorney previously said that the massacre was horrible, but the nuisance it caused was not ongoing.

Fletcher, who is 109 and the oldest living survivor, is set to release a memoir next month about the life she lived in the shadow of the massacre.

In 2019, Oklahoma's attorney general used the public nuisance law to force opioid drug maker Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $465 million in damages. The Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned that decision two years later.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press