TULSA, Okla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Tulsa-based civil and human rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons of SolomonSimmonsLaw, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP and a team of civil and human rights lawyers have filed a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa, The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, and the Tulsa Development Authority for denying access to specific public records related to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in violation of the Oklahoma Open Records Act. The filing is the latest legal action to help provide healing and justice to the survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
In early January, Mr. Solomon-Simmons filed 11 separate open records requests with the City of Tulsa City Clerk and one request with the Tulsa Development Authority under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, seeking records related to the 1921 Massacre and its ongoing impact on the Greenwood District. In each case, his requests to receive the records within the customary 15 business days were ignored, and subsequent efforts to reach out to the defendants were either ignored or subject to stall tactics. Ultimately, The City of Tulsa’s legal department specifically interfered with the City Clerk's legal obligation to comply with Mr. Solomon-Simmons’ requests in retaliation for Solomon-Simmons’ civil rights work against the City, writing, “[G]iven the fact that your firm currently represents parties adverse to the City in on-going litigation you are respectfully advised to immediately discontinue contact with our client [the City Clerk].”
“The City’s refusal to provide records related to the Massacre to which I, as a tax-paying citizen of Oklahoma and nationally-recognized Greenwood historian, educator and advocate, am lawfully entitled access further proves that despite their self-serving public statements, the City’s goal is to continue to cover up and whitewash its role in the destruction of Greenwood and 100 years of continued harm my community has suffered,” Mr. Solomon-Simmons said. “These records are needed to help us uncover additional truths about the events of 1921 to promote healing and justice for the victims of the Massacre, something the City is clearly not interested in.”
On May 31, 1921, one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in U.S. history completely decimated Tulsa’s thriving, all-Black community of Greenwood. A large white mob, including members of the Tulsa Police Department, the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department and the Oklahoma National Guard, as well as other city and county leaders, overwhelmed the approximately 40-square-block community, killing hundreds of Black residents, injuring thousands more, burning down over one thousand homes and businesses and stealing residents’ personal property. Mr. Solomon-Simmons represents the only known survivors of the massacre, 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield “Mother” Randle, 106-year-old Viola “Mother” Fletcher, and 100-year-old Hughes Van Ellis, who are still awaiting justice for Greenwood nearly a century after the brutal attack.
In the other litigation related to the Massacre, an amended petition filed in February seeks to abate the public nuisance of racial disparities, economic inequalities, insecurity and trauma that the City of Tulsa’s unlawful actions and omissions caused and continue to cause, and aims to return the Greenwood District, once known as Black Wall Street, back to the prosperous area it was prior to the devastating events of May 1921. Today, this area still remains poorer and in worse health than the rest of the city. SolomonSimmonsLaw, in conjunction with Schulte Roth & Zabel; J. Spencer Bryan and Steven Terrill of BryanTerrill, P.C.; Professor Eric Miller of Loyola Marymount College of Law; and Maynard M. Henry, Sr., Lashandra Peoples-Johnson and Cordal Cephas of Johnson Cephas Law PLLC, is working to not only secure justice for survivors and descendants of the massacre, but also raise attention to the 100 years of continued harm the Tulsa Race Massacre has caused Black Tulsans.
The legal team will also work with Mr. Solomon-Simmons’ partners from the human rights community, including Human Rights Watch, which in May 2020 published a groundbreaking report documenting the impact of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the systemic racism that followed, and called for reparations, Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.