A 105-year-old woman who survived the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma white supremacist domestic terrorist attack, is leading a lawsuit that is demanding reparations for the damage done to the first Black Wall Street.
Back in 1921, Lessie Benningfield “Mother” Randle was just a little girl when an angry, jealous white group of supremacists destroyed, attacked, and rampaged Tulsa’s Greenwood District, which was known as the Black Wall Street. More than 300 Black-owned businesses in the strip, which established wealth and self-sufficiency for the surrounding Black community. The 35-city block district was completely torn apart by the end of June 1, 1921. Older reports only recorded 36 deaths, but historians believe there were more than 300 people who died on top of those who were injured, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.
CNN reports that the lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Tulsa County District Court by Justice for Greenwood Advocates, a team of civil and human rights lawyers. The legal document includes plaintiffs Vernon A.M.E Church, the only Black-owned building that survived the massacre. Descendants of victims and the Tulsa African Ancestral Society are also included as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. In the suit, the group states that the massacre caused racial and economic disparities within the Black community and that the local government was negligent in protecting the community, as well as helping rebuild it.
“Greenwood and North Tulsa Community residents continue to face racially disparate treatment and City-created barriers to basic human needs, including jobs, financial security, education, housing, justice, and health,” it says. On the defendant side is the city of Tulsa, the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, the Tulsa County sheriff, the Tulsa Development Authority, and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. The defending group said it would not comment on the legal matter as it is pending. The Tulsa County sheriff, Tulsa Development Authority, and Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission have not responded to request for comment, CNN reports.
Randle states in the lawsuit that the white domestic terrorists destroyed her grandmother’s home, causing her “emotional and physical distress that continues to this day.” “She experiences flashbacks of Black bodies that were stacked up on the street as her neighborhood was burning, causing her to constantly relive the terror of May 31 and June 1, 1921,” the lawsuit says. At the time, the Oklahoma National Guard, which participated in the massacre, defended its actions in destroying the area. The Tulsa Police Department also helped destroy the town. Both the Oklahoma National Guard and the Tulsa Sheriff’s Department provided tactical and logistical support to the mob of white supremacists.
“The historical record shows that a handful of Guardsmen protected the Tulsa armory and the weapons inside from more than 300 rioters. The actions of these Guardsmen substantially reduced the number of deaths in the Greenwood District. In the days following the riots, Oklahoma Guardsmen restored order to the area and prevented further attacks by both black and white Tulsans,” stated the Oklahoma National Guard.
However, the lawsuit states Greenwood residents suffered $50 million to $100 million in property damage and says that the laws put in place following the massacre only held the community back, creating racial inequality. The lawsuit doesn’t ask for a specific dollar amount in damages but says that all victims should be compensated for their lost money and property. In addition, the lawsuit calls for a compensation fund, mental health, and educational programs to be created for Greenwood and North Tulsa, as well as a college fund for the descendants of massacre victims. The filing also asks for the construction of a hospital in the community and for Black residents from the Greenwood and North Tulsa communities to have priority consideration for city contracts.