Attorneys for victims and their descendants affected by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre filed a lawsuit in state court on Tuesday against the City of Tulsa and other defendants seeking reparations for the destruction of the city's once thriving Black district.
The group, led by Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, contends Tulsa's long history of racial division and tension stemmed from the massacre, during which an angry white mob descended on a 35-block area, looting, killing and burning it to the ground. Hundreds of Black residents were killed, and thousands more were left homeless and living in a hastily constructed internment camp.
The city and insurance companies never compensated victims for their losses, and the massacre ultimately resulted in racial and economic disparities that still exist today, the lawsuit claims.
In the years following the massacre, city and county officials actively thwarted the community's effort to rebuild and neglected the Greenwood and predominantly Black north Tulsa community in favor of overwhelmingly white parts of Tulsa, according to the suit.
“We're not just talking about what happened in 1921. We're talking about what's still happening," Solomon-Simmons said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “We believe this lawsuit will be successful because there is no question there is a nuisance created by the defendants."
Still today, unemployment in Tulsa's Black community is more than twice that of white Tulsans, median household income for Black residents is half that of whites, Black students are nine times more likely to be suspended from school, and life expectancy for North Tulsa residents is 11 years below the life expectancy in the rest of the city, said Tulsa attorney Steven Terrill.
The massacre received renewed attention in recent months after President Donald Trump selected Tulsa as the location for a rally amid the ongoing racial reckoning over police brutality and racial violence. Trump moved the date of his June rally to avoid coinciding with a Juneteenth celebration in the city’s Greenwood District commemorating the end of slavery.
The lawsuit was filed under the state’s public nuisance law, which the state attorney general used last year to force opioid drug maker Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $465 million in damages.
The plaintiffs want the defendants to “abate the public nuisance of racial disparities, economic inequalities, insecurity, and trauma their unlawful actions and omissions caused in 1921 and continue to cause 99 years after the massacre."
The lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount sought by the plaintiffs but asks the court to declare that a public nuisance created by the defendants is capable of being abated “through the expenditure of money and labor.”
The suit also seeks a detailed accounting of the property and wealth lost or stolen in the massacre, the construction of a hospital in north Tulsa and the creation of a Tulsa Massacre Victims Compensation Fund, among other things. It also seeks immunity from all city and county taxes and utility expenses for the next 99 years for descendants of those who were killed, injured or lost property in the massacre.
Other defendants include the Tulsa Regional Chamber, Board of County Commissioners, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Tulsa County Sheriff and the Oklahoma Military Department.
Several of the defendants declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation.