Oklahoma Supreme Court to Hear Case of 109-year-old Tulsa Massacre Survivors


April 11, 2024

The last two survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre appeared at Oklahoma’s Supreme Court last week demanding that the land and property that was destroyed during the race riot be returned to other survivors and their children. 

Almost four years ago, Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Fletcher, both 109 years old, launched a case against the city of Tulsa to receive reparations following the massacre. Fletcher’s younger brother, Hughes Van Ellis, was a third plaintiff but he passed away last October at age 102. The case was dismissed by the district judge in Tulsa last July, but Mother Randle and Mother Fletcher as they’re known in their community appealed the decision, taking their case all the way to the state Supreme Court.

“We are grateful that our now-weary bodies have held on long enough to witness an America, and an Oklahoma, that provides Race Massacre survivors with the opportunity to access the legal system,” Randle and Fletcher said in a joint statement following opening arguments. “Many have come before us who have knocked and banged on the courthouse doors only to be turned around or never let through the door.”


Mother Randle and Mother Fletcher were just children on 31 May 1921, when a mob of white supremacists murdered around 300 Black Tulsans during a 48-hour rampage. Several blocks of the Greenwood neighborhood known as Black Wall Street were burned to the ground leaving about 9,000 Black residents homeless and in poverty that has continued for generations. 

Tulsa residents and their descendants still feel the impact of the massacre. “It just stays with me, the fear,” Mother Fletcher told CNN. “I have lived in Tulsa since but I don’t sleep all night living there.”

No other survivor has ever had their day in court until now.


The lawsuit argues that the damage inflicted by the massacre on the Black community in Tulsa has never been resolved or addressed and that there should be some form of restitution by handing back property, whether in the form of land or buildings, to the descendants of the people from whom it was forcibly taken. 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court heard opening arguments for the appeal on April 4. The 109-year-old survivors hope that this hearing will be the final step toward receiving justice not just for them, but for survivors everywhere.

“To be clear, the fight facing Mother Fletcher and Mother Randle is about more than just Black Wall Street. It is about the right of every person in Oklahoma to be rest assured that if they are ever abused, swindled, or exploited, they will have a reasonable chance to prove their case in court,” Damario Solomon-Simmons, lead attorney for the survivors, said in a statement. “This is what every American deserves, and it’s what the City of Tulsa, one of the main culprits behind the Tulsa Race Massacre, is trying to take away.”


Cover photo: Oklahoma Supreme Court to Hear Case of Tulsa Massacre Survivors, Lessie Benningfield Randle, and Viola Fletcher / Photo credit: Ed Pilkington/The Guardian

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