A new lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims and survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is seeking reparations from the City of Tulsa, among other entities, for those who have suffered. Included in the lawsuit, which was filed in the Tulsa County District Court earlier this week, is 105-year-old survivor, Lessie Benningfield Randle.
Damario Solomon-Simmons, the lead counsel on the lawsuit, said his team filed it because it’s been “99 years of injustice that the victims and survivors of the massacre have suffered and been denied compensation for.”
On May 31, 1921, white groups attacked an area of Tulsa, known as Greenwood, which was lauded for its prosperous Black businesses and often called the Black Wall Street. Those white mobs burned the area to the ground and murdered as many as 300 people in a span of 18 hours. The massacre began after a Black teen, Dick Rowland, got onto an elevator with a white elevator operator, Sarah Page, at the Drexel building in the city. Rowland was accused of rape.
Historian Scott Ellsworth previously told Inside Edition Digital that isn’t likely what happened.
“He might have tripped and fallen onto her when he entered the elevator. We don't know. But the next day, the Tulsa Tribune, which was the city's afternoon daily newspaper, instead portrayed this unknown incident as an attempt, an interracial rape attempt by this young man,” Ellsworth said.
History has shown, however, that the racial and economic disparities in Tulsa can be traced back to the massacre, and the lawsuit alleges that the attack was carried out not just by residents but members of the Tulsa Police Department, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department, the National Guard and other leaders of the city and county.
The lawsuit also claims that the City of Tulsa is now profiting off the tragedy, while residents of the Greenwood district have received nothing.
“They are essentially turning a crime scene into cultural tourism and they are using it to promote the City of Tulsa and private business in Tulsa,” Solomon-Simmons told Inside Edition Digital. “It’s problematic because if anyone is going to get a benefit off the tragedy of what happened in 1921, it should be the victims of what happened and their descendants.”
Some of the major things Solomon-Simmons said he would like to see are direct payments of all the claims that were made following the massacre due to property damage as a result of the looting. The lawsuit also seeks to have money made available to build up the Black community in Tulsa. Solomon-Simmons said they’re also calling for scholarships for the descendants of the victims.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are arguing that the results of the massacre are still felt in the city and the rates of unemployment for Black Tulsans are twice that of the white population. The household income for Black residents in the city is also $20,000 less than white residents.
“We think the only way we can eradicate that gap is through compensation to the victims and those who suffered because of the racism and public nuisance that was created,” Solomon-Simmons said. “We know what happened. We know who perpetrated the harm and who suffered the damage, and now we need to make it right. That’s all we’re asking.”
The city said they do not comment on pending litigation.