A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the last three survivors of the Tulsa race riots, who argued that the city never adequately compensated them for the burning down of its black business district in 1921. The dismissal means that the plaintiffs cannot launch another legal attempt at gaining reparations.
The three survivors, who are aged between 102 and 109 years old, filed the suit in 2020 during the George Floyd protests, gaining widespread media attention and support from Democratic lawmakers. Although the suit did not specify the amount of money they were seeking, it argued that all three survivors deserved some form of justice in their lifetime.
The survivors’ lawyers based their arguments on Oklahoma’s public nuisance laws, claiming that the city authorities and insurance companies failed to provide sufficient funds to rebuild Tulsa’s black business district after the 1921 riot. These inadequacies allegedly resulted in ongoing social and economic inequalities.
However, Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the suit with prejudice, emphasizing that the survivors had not identified a legally cognizable remedy. She stated that the issue of reparations should be decided by politicians rather than the courts.
The Tulsa race riot, also known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, originated from the accusation that a black teenager had sexually assaulted a white woman in an elevator. At the time, Tulsa was racially segregated and experienced intense competition for employment between black and white residents, leading to a tense atmosphere. Following the teenager’s arrest, black military veterans armed themselves and gathered at the city’s courthouse in anticipation of a possible lynching by a large white mob.
Violence erupted with scuffles and gunshots, and soon white and black men throughout the city were engaged in shooting battles. Within hours, the white mob had burned down the thriving 35-block Greenwood neighborhood, one of the richest black neighborhoods in the United States.
The National Guard was called in to restore order, implementing martial law. By the end of the riots, 26 black and 13 white people had died, and 10,000 Greenwood residents were left homeless.
Despite the dismissal of their lawsuit, the three survivors’ efforts have shed light on the historical injustices faced by the black community in Tulsa. The Tulsa race riots serve as a stark reminder of the systemic racism and violence endured by African Americans throughout American history.
While the survivors’ quest for justice through legal means may have ended, their struggle has ignited discussions about reparations and the need for societal and economic redress for the long-lasting effects of racial violence and discrimination.
Moving forward, it is essential for policymakers and lawmakers to engage in meaningful dialogue and take concrete actions to address the legacy of racial injustice in America. It is through these efforts that progress can be made towards creating a more equitable society for all its citizens.