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Tulsans look on as Race Massacre survivors make case to Oklahoma Supreme Court

Ben Abrams
Jasmine Bivar-Smith speaks at an oral arguments watch party at the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge coffee shop in Tulsa.

Attorneys for the last two survivors of the 1921 Race Massacre presented oral arguments Tuesday to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in hopes of getting their reparations case back to trial.

Viola Fletcher and Lessie Benningfield Randle are the two remaining survivors. They're both 109 years old. Their attorneys argued the massacre was aided and abetted by the government and created an ongoing public nuisance in the historic neighborhood of Greenwood that lasts to this day.

Attorney Keith Wilkes, representing the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, told the state's highest court that Greenwood was rebuilt after the massacre, arguing the nuisance is no longer relevant.

“For the men and women who survived and stayed, the end of the massacre was also the beginning of another story," Wilkes said.

Attorneys for the city of Tulsa, the state of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce also argued they shouldn't be held liable.

The proceedings were livestreamed online and Tulsa residents organized watch parties to mark the pivotal moment.

Jerica Wortham helped organize one such watch party at the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge coffee shop along Greenwood Avenue. She hopes the Supreme Court will understand how the neighborhood has still been affected by the massacre’s legacy.

"[I hope] that they’re really able to hear the heart of the community," Wortham said, "that they’re able to hear the heart of the survivors that are remaining and their descendants."

Community member Consuelo Scott Miles said the lawsuit is long overdue.

"It should have been settled many, many years ago," she said. "Reparations should have been given many, many years ago.”

Ben Abrams is a news reporter and All Things Considered host for KWGS.
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