The lawsuit names 11 plaintiffs which include survivors as well as relatives of the survivors. Also, seven defendants are named including the city of Tulsa, the Oklahoma Military Department and the Tulsa Development Authority.
Judge Caroline Wall said the motion to dismiss was “granted in part” and “denied in part,” which allows the case to proceed but it’s unknown what the next steps will be, according to Michael Swartz, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys pleaded with the judge on Monday afternoon for the judge to allow the case to move forward so the survivors and descendants of victims from the massacre could finally have their day in court, potentially their last shot at some form of justice.
When the decision was announced, supporters of the survivors and their relatives in the Tulsa courtroom cheered and applauded, including the three remaining survivors who are each over 100 years old (Hughes Van Ellis is 101, Viola Fletcher and Lessie Benningfield Randle who are both 107).
“I’ve never seen nothing like this happen,” Van Ellis said.
“That means it’s going to change things,” he continued. “It’s going to make people think … It’s going to change, it’s going to be better for everybody.”
Filed back in March 2021, the lawsuit seeks to get the facts straight on the horrific events that took place between May 31, 1921 and June 1, 1921, and to establish a special fund for survivors and descendants of the massacre that left at least 300 Black people dead and destroyed the Greenwood community also known as “Black Wall Street.”
Damario Solomon-Simmons, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that he was involved in earlier litigation for the massacre in the early 2000s along with Charles J. Ogletree and Johnnie Cochran. Today’s victory was the result of years of defeats.
“When you work on something for 20-plus years, you have defeat after defeat … you have client after client die,” Solomon-Simmons said. “To know I have three living survivors that are here with me right now feel this partial victory, it means everything.”
According to Solomon-Simmons, Judge Wall’s decision could mean that America could be held accountable for previous injustices and similar cases will be litigated in the future.
“It shows a precedent and model of how you can organize a community, how you can organize your colleagues and partners throughout the nation,” he said. “This victory we’ve received is because of so many people working together from across this nation and building coalitions.”