The episode started on May 31, 1921, after a Black man, Dick Rowland, was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The charges against Mr. Rowland were eventually dropped: In 2001, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 said in a report that the authorities concluded that he had most likely tripped and stepped on the woman’s foot.
After Mr. Rowland was jailed in the county courthouse, a group of armed Black people, fearful he would be lynched, gathered to ensure his safety. Hundreds of white Tulsans gathered to call for the sheriff to turn Mr. Rowland over and, according to the 2001 commission report, a white man tried to grab a Black man’s gun, which went off.
The white mob spread out through downtown Tulsa, shooting Black people on sight and setting fire to businesses in Greenwood. People were killed on the street or simply vanished, and members of the Oklahoma National Guard arrested Black victims instead of white looters. As many as 300 Black people were killed and more than 1,200 homes were destroyed.
It was among the worst racial terror attacks in U.S. history.
“The court’s ruling is incredibly important,” Michael Swartz, the plaintiffs’ co-counsel, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. “It means that, after 100 years, the three living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre will finally have an opportunity to hold the institutions who instigated, facilitated and brutally implemented one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in this country’s history accountable for their actions and to seek to repair the continuing harm done to their once thriving community.”
The three plaintiffs who survived the massacre are all over 100 years old: Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis Sr. and Lessie Benningfield Randle, who says she still has flashbacks of corpses being stacked on the street as her neighborhood burned, according to the complaint. Mr. Solomon-Simmons, in his arguments on Monday, said that given their age, “time is of the essence,” according to news reports from inside the courtroom.
“We want them to see justice in their lifetime,” Mr. Solomon-Simmons said, according to The A.P. “I just don’t want to see the last three die without justice.”