Survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre filed a sweeping lawsuit Tuesday against the city, county and other authorities they blame for leading one of America’s “worst acts of domestic terrorism.”
Plaintiffs, who include 105-year-old Lessie E. Benningfield Randle, are seeking damages they claim are long overdue following the infamous attack by white mobs on a north Tulsa neighborhood that had been home to middle-class Black residents and known as Black Wall Street.
“Beginning on May 31, 1921 and lasting through June 1, 1921, one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in United States history since slavery completely decimated Tulsa’s thriving, all-Black community of Greenwood,” according to the lawsuit filed by plaintiffs’ lawyer Damario Solomon-Simmons.
“This brutal, inhumane attack … robbed thousands of African Americans of their right of self-determination on which they had built this self-sustaining community.”
Randle, known as “Mother Randle” to friends, is the lawsuit’s oldest plaintiff and still lives in the area.
“Defendants looted and destroyed Mother Randle’s grandmother’s home, rendered her insecure in her health and sense of safety in the immediate aftermath of the massacre and caused her to have emotional and physical distress to this day,” according to the lawsuit.
“She experiences flashbacks of Black bodies that were stacked up on the streets as her neighborhood was burning, causing her to constantly relive the terror.”
The white mobs leveled a 35-block area, burning it to the ground, killing hundreds of Black residents and leaving thousands more homeless.
“It’s about respect, restoration and repair of those who suffered,” Solomon-Simmons told NBC affiliate KJRH-TV.
This disturbing chapter of American history has gained renewed attention in recent months and years.
Also this summer, archeologists in Tulsa searched for a mass grave from the massacre.
And in fall 2019, HBO’s “Watchmen” featured a stylized, searing recreation of the onslaught.
Plaintiffs and others in the Black community in Tulsa have never recovered from the 1921 massacre, according to the lawsuit.
The civil action did not name a dollar amount sought by plaintiffs but asked for damages in the form of: A detailed accounting of the property and wealth lost or stolen in the massacre, construction of a hospital and trauma center in north Tulsa and the creation of a Tulsa Massacre Victims Compensation Fund, among other demands.
The lawsuit named seven defendants: the city, county, the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Development Authority, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Sheriff Vic Regalado and the Oklahoma National Guard.
Reps for Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, Regalado and the county declined comment on Wednesday.
National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Geoffrey J. Legler insisted 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,” according to a statement by Legler. “In the days following the riots, Oklahoma Guardsmen restored order to the area and prevented further attacks by both black and white Tulsans.”
But the plaintiffs insist the Guard was not a force of peace and instead “participated with and provided tactical and logistical support to the angry white mob.”
“The National Guard dd mot act to quell the violence,” the plaintiffs said. “Rather, it joined the police and the angry white mob, including the newly deputized white residents.”
Reps for the other three defendants did not return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.
The eight other plaintiffs filing the lawsuit include Laurel Stradford, a great-granddaughter of J.B. Stradford, who owned the district’s major hotel at the time, and Don M. Adams, a nephew of massacre victim Dr. A.C. Jackson.