Three centenarians appeared at a court hearing in Tulsa this week.
More than 100 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, survivors and their descendants are still seeking justice in court for atrocities committed against the once thriving black community.
In 1921, a mob of white outposts vacated Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, known at the time as “Black Wall Street” because of its prosperity and successful business ventures. At least 300 people were killed, thousands injured, and nearly 35 acres of commercial and residential property destroyed in the racist violence.
“This lawsuit seeks to seek justice and reparation for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and 100 years of continued damages,” Demario Solomon-Simons, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told ABC News. “What we say in a trial, and what we believe we can prove, is that the genocide called public nuisance, and that nuisance continues unabated, not meaning fixed, or repaired.” since it was established.”
Three survivors of the horror — Lacey Benningfield Randall, Viola Fletcher and Hughes Van Ellis — appeared in a Tulsa courtroom on Tuesday as Solomon-Simmons argued for the case, demanding acknowledgment and accountability from the city and local government. The fate of the trial is now in the hands of District Judge Carolyn Wall, who is set to rule on whether it can go ahead.
“They were there the whole time,” Solomon-Simmons told ABC News on Wednesday of the three centenarians. “They’re clear. They’re strong. They’re inspirational, and we think they deserve this day in court, when others have died without justice. That’s why we’re so inspired to bring them to justice before it’s too late.” and inspired.”
Solomon-Simmons called the hearing “historic”, as it comes after more than a century of efforts by survivors.
The lawyer said that for the court to declare and acknowledge that it was genocide and is causing continuing harm “could provide a sense of healing.”
“When you have survivors who experienced murder, witnessed looting, their community was burned, literally had to run for life and run out of town,” and then the same entities that created that damage accept responsibility. refuse to do, refuse to even acknowledge that they did what actually happened, which continues the trauma, which harms those survivors.”
“After the court was recognized by law, these people began to correct this worst act of domestic terrorism in the history of this country,” he said. “And then if these people are ordered to reduce or fix the problem, to stop the nuisance, and only then can this community and those affected by the genocide be made perfect.”
One of the survivors of the massacre, Fletcher testified before a congressional committee in May, saying, “I still see black people being shot, black bodies lying in the street. I still smell the smoke. And the fire appears.”
Fletcher, who was 7 years old at the time, said, “I still see black businesses burning. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear screams. I live from carnage every day. I have passed.” “Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not, and others will not survive. And our descendants do not.”
A spokeswoman for the city of Tulsa declined ABC News’ request for comment on Wednesday, citing an ongoing lawsuit. The city has argued in court filings that, among other things, too much time has passed since the claims were made in the lawsuit.
The city celebrated the 100th anniversary of the massacre in early June. Meanwhile, work is still underway to identify the remains found in a mass grave in October 2020 believed to be linked to violence.