Monuments have gone up so that the Tulsa, Okla. Black Wall Street massacre of 1921 never falls into the dustpan of history.
Reparations for Black Americans victimized by racism remains elusive, even for survivors of one of the worst racial massacres in United States history.
An Oklahoma judge dismissed, with prejudice, a case brought by survivors of the 1921 Tulsa, Okla. race riot seeking reparations, saying that the survivors did not prove “individualized injury.”
“[It’s an] incredibly sad development,” said philanthropist Ed Mitzen, who along with his wife Lisa gave the three living Black Wall Street survivors $1 million last year. “Our hearts are with the survivors and their families.”
The three plaintiffs, who may still appeal the judge’s ruling, were Lessie Benningfield Randle, Viola Fletcher and Hughes Van Ellis.
Dennis Romero of NBC News reported, “Among the defendants’ arguments is that the three plaintiffs did not suffer individual, adverse effects from the massacre, which has emerged as an example of government-sanctioned racism and violence that has contributed to uneven outcomes for Black Americans.
“The massacre most likely started as a misunderstanding, or a lie. A Black boy got into an elevator with a White girl in Tulsa, and after they emerged the local newspaper suggested he had tried to sexually assault her, an allegation never endorsed by the girl.”
Some historians believe that the little boy may have tripped into the girl.
Because of strict segregation laws and White supremacy, any contact with a White female could prove fatal for a Black male.
As a result of the “encounter,” the local newspaper called for a lynching.
The local White community took the call seriously, and over the next couple of days an area known for thriving Black businesses and affluent Black residents was destroyed, with many lives lost.
The Greenwood area of Tulsa, Okla., known as a Wall Street for Black residents, had long been the envy of many White residents of Tulsa.
At a time, a few decades after the abolishment of slavey, when many believed in White supremacy, countless Black residents lived a more affluent lifestyle than their White counterparts.
Black Wall Steet was a self-contained community with its own post office, airport, doctors, lawyers, stores, salons and churches.
Black Wall Street became a model of Black people pulling themselves up from their bootstraps to create their own little slice of heaven.
But after the “misunderstanding” on that elevator in 1921, the bootstraps were snatched from them, destroyed, and never replaced.
Fletcher once said, “I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.
“I am 107 years old and have never been—seen justice. I pray that one day I will. I have been blessed with a long life and have seen the best and the worst of this country. I think about the terror—horror—inflicted upon Black people in this country every day.”
NBC News’ Romero added that the rioters were responsible for “burning down 1,200 homes, 60 businesses, a hospital, a school, and a library in the Greenwood District, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The rioting gutted the heart of the Black community, which would never recover to the lofty days before May 31, 1921.”
Although the judge decided that the plaintiffs did not suffer personal loss because of the Black Wall Street massacre, the lawsuit argued that Randle, 108, did suffer personal loss.
Romero reported, “In Randle’s case, her grandmother’s home was looted and destroyed. One of the keys to the discrepancy between White and Black wealth has been intergenerational real estate ownership, with many cases of property destroyed or outright stolen following the Civil war.”
The logic is that Randle’s grandmother’s home would have been passed down to her descendants, meaning that those homes would have resulted in generational wealth for the family.
Because many White people stole or destroyed Black homes and businesses because of hatred White supremacy, the wealth was destroyed or given to White people for free.
Many opponents of reparations for Black people believe that the key to close the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites is for Blacks to simply work harder and stop asking for handouts.
But proponents of reparations for Black people argue that when many Black people did work hard to achieve the American dream, White supremacists often stole their dreams from under them, creating a nightmare that still exists in the 21 century.
Even today, homes owned by Black people are valued significantly lower than it would be if the same homes were owned by White people.
Many Black homeowners, who have their White friends pose as the homeowners, often see their homes valued at tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they were valued when the appraisers believed it was a Black household.
Furthermore, many Black loan applicants have received higher interests than their White peers, even when everything is equal such as salary and credit score.
Romero reported, “The plaintiffs did not attach a dollar amount to the suit. They have said they want the defendants to rebuild some community elements, such as a hospital, and contribute to a survivors’ fund.
“Dismissal is unlikely to pause the widening awareness of their story, a crucial piece of American history that helps explain contemporary disparities.”
The movement for reparations continues as many politicians, on the national and state level, urge the government to study the possibility of paying descendants of slaves for the generations of free labor provided by their ancestors.