Woman, 105, Files Lawsuit Seeking Reparations for 1921 Tulsa Massacre

A lawsuit asking for reparations for the 1921 Tulsa race massacre was filed by a group of Oklahomans on Tuesday.

The attack is largely considered one of the worst acts of racial violence in U.S. history.

The lawsuit, led by a 105-year-old survivor of the massacre, alleges the violence in the neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, contributed to the racial inequality found in Tulsa today. It accuses the city of Tulsa, county of Tulsa, the then-Sheriff of Tulsa County, the Oklahoma national guard and the Tulsa regional chamber of being directly involved in the massacre and "unjustly" enriching themselves at the "expense of the black citizens of Tulsa and teh survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre."

Lessie Benningfield Randle, 105, one of two known survivors of the massacre, alleges in the lawsuit that she still experiences flashbacks of bodies being stacked up on the street as Greenwood burned, her attorneys said.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the great-granddaughter of JB Stradford, who owned the largest black-owned hotel in the United States at the time of the massacre.

An estimated 300 Black people were killed on May 31 and June 1, 1921 after a white mob, backed by local authorities and police, burned down a thriving Black neighborhood, once known as "Black Wall Street." Thousands of Black residents were displaced by the violence after 35 city blocks were destroyed in the aftermath. At the time of the massacre, the area was known as one of the most affluent black neighborhoods in the U.S.

The massacre resurfaced in popular culture with the opening scenes of HBO's "The Watchman," which dramatized the incident as it happened nearly 100 years ago, and after President Donald Trump tried to arrange a rally on the anniversary of the massacre in Tulsa.

A 2001 commission formed by the Tulsa state legislature found the city conspired to hire white people to launch the offensive on Greenwood. The report also recommended direct payments to survivors and their descendants.

The Tulsa Race Riots began after a 19-year-old Black man named Dick Rowland, was falsely accused of sexual assaulting a 17-year-old white elevator operator at a nearby building. When rumors of the arrest began spreading through the city, hundreds of white men gathered around the jail where Rowland was being held, intending on lynching him. A group of about 75 Black men, some of whom were armed, arrived to protect Rowland, the sheriff was able to persuade the group to eventually leave. However, as the group of Black men were leaving, one of the white men attempted to disarm one of the black men. A shot was fired and the situation exploded into chaos.

"Through the night of May 31, and into the morning of June 1, whites virtually destroyed the Greenwood section. There were an undetermined number of deaths, both black and white, with estimates ranging from the official count of 36 to approximately 300," the commission wrote in its report. "Over 1,000 residences were burned and another 400 looted. The business district of Greenwood was totally destroyed and probably accounts for much of the $4 million in claims filed against the city in 1921."

Photo: Getty Images

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