Survivors Viola Ford Fletcher (l.) and Lessie Benningfield Randle are calling on the Biden administration to open an investigation into the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre without further delay.  © IMAGO / USA TODAY Network

Tulsa, Oklahoma - The last two living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre on Tuesday issued their first public statement since the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied an appeal of their historic reparations lawsuit.

"It is 2024, 103 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, and our legal system continues to deny Black Americans an equal opportunity to seek justice under the law. The reality is as simple as it is chilling: we, the last two survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, have been forced to jump over higher legal bars than anyone else simply because we dare to seek justice for the atrocities committed upon us and our community," Viola Ford Fletcher (110) and Lessie Benningfield Randle (109) said in their joint statement, read during a press conference in Tulsa.

"We are profoundly disappointed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision to reject our lawsuit," the plaintiffs shared. "And we are deeply saddened that we may not live long enough to see the State of Oklahoma or the United States of America honestly confront and right the wrongs of one of the darkest days of American history."

Last month, just days before Juneteenth, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of a July 2023 decision to dismiss a lawsuit seeking redress for harms stemming from the infamous 1921 massacre, claiming the courts have no authority to rule on the matter.

The survivors' groundbreaking complaint accused the City of Tulsa, Tulsa County, the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Oklahoma National Guard, and other defendants of creating an ongoing public nuisance that continues to inflict damage to this day.

The attempted appeal represented what many believed to be the final opportunity for Fletcher and Randle to have their day in court after over a century of gaslighting and denial.

"At 109 and 110 years old, we are weary, and we know we are living on borrowed time," the survivors said. "Because of this, we have decided to use this statement to speak boldly and straightforwardly about the failures of the American justice system to all who will listen, for we have nothing left to lose."

Tulsa Race Massacre survivors shine a light of truth

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is known as one of the worst acts of racial violence in US history.

Over May 31-June 1, 1921, white law enforcement officers and deputized civilians murdered hundreds of Black Americans and destroyed 40 square-blocks of Tulsa's Greenwood community. The terrorists even dropped firebombs on the district from decommissioned US military planes.

The once-thriving Greenwood district is reduced to ruins after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The once-thriving Greenwood district is reduced to ruins after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.  © IMAGO / glasshouseimages

Before the assault, the Greenwood district – known as Black Wall Street – was seen as a symbol of resilience, hope, and opportunity for many Black people in the South living under Jim Crow apartheid. Much of that prosperity was wiped out by the murderous mob hellbent on decimating the flourishing Black community.

Fletcher and Randle have lived with the horrors of the massacre for more than 100 years without any form of redress from the authorities responsible. Hughes Van Ellis, Fletcher's brother and an original plaintiff in the case, died in October at the age of 102 – without receiving reparations.

"With our own eyes and burned deeply into our memories, we watched white Americans destroy, kill, and loot, and despite these obvious crimes, not one indictment was issued," Fletcher and Randle recalled in their statement.

"This is the American reality. No matter how much politicians seek to instill policies that hide our history, this is our collective truth," the survivors said. "It seems that the only justice permitted for Black Americans are sympathetic words and supposed promises that white Americans, our government, and our justice system will do better. But the lip service continues, and tangible justice is consistently denied."

Today, the legacy of the massacre may still be felt as Black Tulsans continue to experience stark racial disparities across wealth, education, employment, housing, health, and the criminal legal system. Meanwhile, the public nuisance lawsuit accuses the City of Tulsa and the other defendants of raising tens of millions of dollars from cultural tourism around the massacre – without sharing those profits with the survivors.

The decades of rejection and exploitation are not stopping Fletcher and Randle from pursuing their lifelong fight for acknowledgement and repair.

"Though our quest for justice in Oklahoma may be over, for as long as we remain in this lifetime, we will continue to shine a light on the darkest days of American history," the survivors insisted.

Hughes Van Ellis (l.), an original plaintiff in the public nuisance lawsuit, sits alongside fellow Tulsa Race Massacre survivors Lessie Benningfiled Randle (c.) and his sister, Viola Ford Fletcher. Ellis passed away in October 2023 without receiving reparations.

Hughes Van Ellis (l.), an original plaintiff in the public nuisance lawsuit, sits alongside fellow Tulsa Race Massacre survivors Lessie Benningfiled Randle (c.) and his sister, Viola Ford Fletcher. Ellis passed away in October 2023 without receiving reparations.  © IMAGO / USA TODAY Network

Tulsa Race Massacre survivors call on Biden to act

The survivors and their legal representatives have filed a petition for rehearing before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

They are also demanding President Joe Biden and the Justice Department launch a probe into the massacre under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007.

Biden traveled to Tulsa in 2021 to mark the 100-year anniversary of the massacre. He met with Fletcher, Randle, and Ellis and in his public remarks expressed his dedication to facing the truth of what happened in 1921 – a pledge he is now being called upon to fulfill.

"We must give respect to our survivors, the descendants, and this community by demanding the Department of Justice immediately investigate what happened here on this sacred ground over 100 years ago," urged Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, a Greenwood descendant.

"This community is watching, President Biden. This nation is watching. History is watching."

Hughes Van Ellis, Viola Ford Fletcher, and Damario Solomon-Simmons listen as President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Hughes Van Ellis, Viola Ford Fletcher, and Damario Solomon-Simmons listen as President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.  © MANDEL NGAN / AFP

A swift decision from the Biden administration is all the more urgent ahead of the 2024 elections, as the incumbent Democrat appears poised to face off against far-right Republican Donald Trump.

Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons warned the president that failure to act now may have devastating repercussions come November: "As we are getting into this election season and people are questioning why should they stand in line and vote [...] this singular issue could be the difference between us continuing to have a democracy or a total dictatorship."

"Now that we have been failed by the courts, now that we have been failed by the Congress, we're calling upon President Biden to fulfill his promise to these survivors, to this community, and to Black people throughout this nation."

Article and Images Sourced from TAG24