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Lawsuit Filed Over Century-Old 'Massacre in Slow Motion'

105-year-old leads plaintiffs in demanding reparations for destroying 'Black Wall Street'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 3, 2020 8:40 AM CDT
She Lived Through Tulsa's 1921 Massacre. Now She's Suing
In this 1921 file image, Mount Zion Baptist Church burns after being torched by white mobs during the 1921 Tulsa massacre.   (Greenwood Cultural Center via Tulsa World via AP)

Lessie Benningfield "Mother" Randle was just a child when the Greenwood area of Tulsa, Okla., (aka "Black Wall Street") was attacked by a white mob and burned down in the spring of 1921, killing an estimated 300 Black Americans. Now a lawsuit led by Randle, 105—who has "flashbacks of Black bodies that were stacked up on the street," per the complaint—has been filed, asking for reparations. Other plaintiffs include victims' descendants, the Tulsa African Ancestral Society, and the Vernon AME Church, which was the only Black-owned building to survive the devastation, per CNN. Defendants include the city of Tulsa, Tulsa County, and the Oklahoma National Guard. "The Greenwood massacre deprived Black Tulsans of their sense of security, hard-won economic power, and vibrant community," says Damario Solomon-Simmons, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, per the Guardian.

"[It] created a nuisance that continues to this day," he adds in regard to the racial inequality he says still persists. Those disparities, he notes, can be found in nearly every facet of life in Tulsa, from health and life expectancy to education, unemployment, and finances. "The defendants in this case have continued the massacre in slow motion for nearly a century," Solomon-Simmons says. Although no monetary amount is specified in the suit, the plaintiffs say they're entitled to compensation for property loss during the massacre, as well as for "money that should have gone to the community since 1921," per CNN. Asks include a victim compensation fund, a college fund for descendants of those killed in the massacre, mental health and education initiatives for locals, and a new community hospital. No one has ever been arrested for the 1921 violence, per the Washington Post. (Read more Tulsa stories.)

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