top of page
  • Terry Pearson Stevens

"Black Wall Street" Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors Denied Well-Deserved Reparations by the Supreme Court.

Viola Fletcher. Screenshot/CSPAN

Recently, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court denied reparations for Hughes Van Ellis (now deceased), Viola Fletcher (110), and Lessie Benningfield Randle (109). All were children when they witnessed the massacre that took the lives of at least 300 Blacks in 1921 in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Photo by Francis Albert Schmidt, Tulsa Historical Society and Museum

According to The Library of Congress, "Mobs of white residents attacked, destroyed, and burned Black residents' homes and businesses, as well as cultural and public institutions in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, OK, an oil boom city. Greenwood was also known as "Black Wall Street," one of the wealthiest Black communities in the United States." The destruction incurred millions of dollars of debt. According to PBS, "Entire families were loaded onto trucks and transported under armed guards to detention centers. Photos from the massacre were "declared" souvenirs. Some photo owners wrote picture captions such as "Little Africa on Fire."

Beryl D. Ford Collection, Tulsa Historical Society and Museum

When Viola Fletcher testified about the massacre before Congress in 2021, she stated, "I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home. I still see Black men being shot and Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and I see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams," Fletcher told lawmakers. "I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot." She continued, "I am 107 years old and I have never ... seen justice. I pray that one day I will," she said. "I have been blessed with a long life and have seen the best and the worst of this country. I think about the terror inflicted upon black people in this country every day."

Despite Fletcher's testimony, district court judge Caroline Wall dismissed the recent lawsuit against Tulsa, Oklahoma's Board of County Commissioners, and the Oklahoma Military Department. Wall entered her ruling without prejudice. She stated, "Simply being connected to a historical event does not provide a person with unlimited rights to seek compensation."

Viola Fletcher and Lessie Benningfield Randle. USA Today/Screenshot

However, under the United States Civil Liberties Act via the Redress and Reparations Law, all Japanese American survivors of World War II who were incarcerated in concentration camps not only received $20,000 under the United States Civil Liberties Act, but they also received a public apology from former President Ronald Reagan.

Many Native American tribes receive compensation from the United States government for destroying their villages, forcing them onto reservations, and confiscating their land. According to the Government Accountability Office, several federal agencies now provide direct services or funding to federally recognized Tribal Nations and their citizens—including the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS).

However, for decades, America has consistently refused the provision of reparations for Black Americans. Since the advent of slavery, enslavers destroyed Black families by forcing males to work on other plantations, increasing the number of enslaved people by impregnating enslaved women and taking children from their parents.

The fact that America's prosperous economy was built almost singlehandedly by Black slaves, who never received fair compensation for their labor, is reason enough to grant reparations.

In 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposed paying reparations for slavery, arguing "none of us currently living are responsible" for what he called America's "original sin." McConnell continued, "I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea," the Kentucky Republican told reporters in response to a question about whether reparations should be paid or a public apology should be made by Congress or the President."

In 2023, US Representative Cori Bush proposed a $14 trillion reparations bill for Black Americans. According to ABC News, the proposal asserts the bill would close the racial wealth gap in America. The bill notes that enslaved Black people built the White House and the Capitol.  

The California State Senate passed a trio of reparations bills Tuesday written with the intent to begin correcting the harms of slavery and decades of anti-Black racism perpetuated by the state and local governments. The bills now head to the Assembly for votes. The three bills passed Tuesday are part of a dozen-bill reparations package introduced by the California Legislative Black Caucus earlier this year. The bills build on the more than 100 proposals for reparations released by California's Reparations Task Force in the summer of 2023 after two years of extensive and groundbreaking work.

It's time for America to do the right thing.  

This story will be updated. To subscribe to Volume 82, click the link. To follow our Instagram, click here; for TikTok, click here!

1 Comment

Natalie Montgomery
Jun 27

The United States will never acknowledge or apologize for what happened in Tulsa. Even though there are victims who can speak on the violence that took place.

bottom of page