Edward Dwight’s humiliation sculpture in Tulsa, Okla. depicts a Black man with his hands raised in surrender.

A judge has ruled that a lawsuit by survivors of the Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa, Okla. in 1921 can proceed.

Three survivors of the Black Wall Street disaster are seeking compensation for the massacre that destroyed the once thriving community 101 years ago.

Reuters reported, “The lawsuit seeks financial and other reparations, including a 99-year tax holiday for Tulsa residents who are descendants of victims of the massacre in north Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood. It is estimated that as many as 300 people, most of them Black, died.”

Defendants, including the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma Military Department and the Tulsa Development Authority, had sought to have the case dismissed.

The case has seven defendants in total.

However, Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall rejected the motion to dismiss.

The next steps include the discovery phase, which includes gathering evidence.

Many Americans know the story about Black Wall Street.

At a time of Jim Crow segregation, Black residents of Tulsa created a thriving community that often outpaced the financial achievements of their White counterparts.

Black people in the South often could not frequent establishments reserved for White people or chose not to patronize businesses that separated customers by race.

Because of the exclusionary practices of Jim Crow, Blacks in Tulsa built every kind of business that a community would need to survive and thrive.

Black Wall Street residents had a half dozen airplanes.

It had its own post offices, doctor’s offices, barber and beauty salons and every other business one could imagine.

And many of the business owners had more wealth than White business owners.

Unfortunately, the accumulation of Black wealth and success created White backlash.

And when a White woman accused a Black man named Dick Rowland of assaulting her on an elevator of a Tulsa commercial building on May 30, 1921, many White residents of Tulsa, Okla. destroyed Black Wall Street, killing many of its residents.

Survivors even claimed that they were bombed from the air, which totally decimated the once thriving community.

Over 100 years later, Black Wall Street has not fully recovered, not yet reaching its peak of success from the early 20th century.

Reuters reported, “Among the plaintiffs are Lessie Randle, who survived the massacre as a small child, and a descendant of the owner of the Stradford Hotel, at the time of the massacre the largest Black-owned hotel in the U.S.”

Speaking on the lawsuit, Black Wall Street massacre survivor Hughes Van Ellis, 101, said, “I’ve never seen nothing like this happen. That means it’s going to change things. It’s going to make people think…It’s going to change, it’s going to be better for everybody.”

Ellis, who goes by Uncle Red, told CNN that he has never given up hope in seeking justice for the Black Wall Street massacre.

The court case is a race against time because Randle and Viola Fletcher are 107 years old.

Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons has been involved in the litigation of the Black Wall Street reparations case since the early 2000s, working alongside Johnnie Cochran and Charles J. Ogletree.

Solomon-Simmons said, “When you work on something for 20-plus years, you have defeat after defeat…you have client after client die. To know I have three living survivors that are here with me right now feel this partial victory, it means everything.”

Judge Wall’s decision, in the mind of Solomon-Simmons, means America could be held accountable for some of the past instances of injustice and could be used for similar cases in the future.

Solomon-Simmons said, “It shows a precedent and model of how you can organize a community, how you can organize your colleagues, and partners throughout the nation. This victory we’ve received is because of so many people working together from across this nation and building coalitions.”

When Solomon-Simmons walked into the courtroom on May 2, he received cheers from those in the courtroom.

In reference to the collective ages of the plaintiffs, Solomon-Simmons said, “They’ve waited 300-plus years to have their day in court. Injustice plus time does not equal justice.”

He said the discovery phase is so important to the case.

Solomon-Simmons said, “And that’s why this is so important. There’s so much we don’t know about the massacre. There’s so much we don’t know about the ongoing harm.”

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the Black Wall Street massacre.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on the commemoration of this horrific incident in American history.

Regardless, Black Tulsans still honored the victims and survivors of the Black Wall Street massacre.

Sculptor Edward Dwight, 88, created a memorial at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park to tell people stories that could inspire them to learn more about history.

Dwight’s sculptures at the park tell the story of the horrific massacre at Black Wall Street.

In 2021, Dwight said, “I want to leave you with questions: ‘What happened here?’”

The Oklahoman reported, “Plenty of Americans have sought out answers about the massacre that was kept out of history books for decades. Dwight said he was one of the people who hungered for Black history because he grew up without knowledge of such things and didn’t know about iconic Black historic leaders like Harriet Tubman until he was in his 40s.

“Using symbols and images, Dwight said he captured the tragic loss of life and the resiliency of Black Tulsans who built Greenwood because the art conveys important lessons for Americans of all races.”

Todd A. Smith
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