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Race massacre survivors make case to Okla. Supreme Court as Tulsans look on

Jasmine Bivar-Smith speaks to a small audience before a watch party at the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge.
Ben Abrams
Jasmine Bivar-Smith speaks to a small audience before a watch party at the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge.

Attorneys for the last two survivors of the 1921 Race Massacre presented oral arguments Tuesday to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in hopes of getting their reparations case back to trial.

Viola Fletcher and Lessie Benningfield Randle are the two remaining survivors. They're both 109 years old. Their attorneys argued the massacre, that was aided and abetted by the government, created an ongoing public nuisance in the historic neighborhood of Greenwood that lasts to this day.

Attorney Keith Wilkes, representing the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, told the state's highest court that Greenwood was rebuilt after the massacre, arguing the nuisance is no longer relevant.

“For the men and women who survived and stayed, the end of the massacre was also the beginning of another story," Wilkes said.

Attorneys for the city of Tulsa, the state of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce also argued they shouldn't be held liable for the racist attack that historians say left as many as 300 dead.

The proceedings were livestreamed online and Tulsa residents organized watch parties to mark the pivotal moment.

Jerica Wortham helped organize one such watch party at the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge coffee shop along Greenwood Avenue. She hopes the Supreme Court will understand how the neighborhood has still been affected by the massacre’s legacy.

"[I hope] that they’re really able to hear the heart of the community," Wortham said, "that they’re able to hear the heart of the survivors that are remaining and their descendants."

Community member Consuelo Scott Miles said the lawsuit is long overdue.

"It should have been settled many, many years ago," she said. "Reparations should have been given many, many years ago.”

If the survivors' appeal is successful, their case would be sent back to Tulsa County District Court for trial. It was dismissed by Tulsa Judge Caroline Wall in July of 2023.

Ben Abrams is a news reporter and All Things Considered host for KWGS.
Check out all of Ben's links and contact info here.