On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled to dismiss a case brought by the last known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The lawsuit, which sought reparations for two women who survived the massacre as children, was seen as a final effort to achieve justice for the victims of the attack.

Lawsuit represented last survivors sued for 1921 massacre

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling upheld a July 2023 lower court judgment that dismissed the case of Lessie Benningfield Randle, 109, and Viola Ford Fletcher, 110. Both plaintiffs were children in 1921 living in Tulsa’s thriving Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street, when a white mob attacked, supported by aerial bombardment. The massacre killed up to 300 people and destroyed the neighborhood. In 2020, Randle and Fletcher joined Fletcher’s brother, Hughes Van Ellis, to sue the Tulsa County Sheriff, as well as county commissioners and the Oklahoma Military Department, for reparations for the massacre. Van Ellis died in October at 102, leaving Randle and Fletcher as the last two known survivors of the massacre.

‘Public nuisance’ claim thrown out by court

In an 8-1 ruling, the court declared that “with respect to their public nuisance claim, though Plaintiffs’ grievances are legitimate, they do not fall within the scope of our State’s public nuisance statute.” The court also ruled that “Plaintiffs’ allegations do not sufficiently support a claim for unjust enrichment” under the state’s relevant statute.”

After the ruling, the City of Tulsa issued a statement saying that it “respects the court’s decision and affirms the significance of the work the City continues to do in the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities,” citing various initiatives and projects and demonstration that “the City remains committed to working with residents and providing resources to support the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities.”

‘This is it’

In an April interview with CNN, the survivors’ lawyer, Damario Solomon-Simmons, told the network that the appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was the last step in his clients’ case.

“There is no going to the United States Supreme Court. There is no going to the federal court system,” Solomon-Simmons told the news network. “This is it.”

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted that the decision demonstrated the need for reparations that included descendants of victims.

“These survivors for more than a century have stubbornly refused to die, only to be denied justice again and again,” adding that “when it comes to descendants of slavery, this country has always engaged in the tactic of delay until death.”

It appears that justice will be permanently delayed for Randle and Fletcher. With reparations movements continuing in some states and localities across the U.S. but being stifled in others, the fight to achieve justice for anti-Black racism and violence remains a long, hard struggle.