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Previously unknown Tulsa Race Massacre survivor added to lawsuit plaintiffs

Previously unknown Tulsa Race Massacre survivor added to lawsuit plaintiffs

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The Rev. Robert Turner (left) of Vernon AME Church speaks during a news conference to discuss a newly filed Tulsa Race Massacre lawsuit on Sept. 1.

Attorneys behind a new lawsuit over the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre say they’ve added two more massacre survivors, including one who was previously unknown, to the list of plaintiffs.

The additions to the suit, which seeks reparations for the massacre, are Viola Fletcher, 106, of Bartlesville and Hughes Van Ellis, 100, of Aurora, Colorado.

Van Ellis was only recently identified as a massacre survivor, attorneys said.

Together with previous plaintiff Lessie Randle, 106, of Tulsa, the three are the last known survivors of the massacre, attorneys said.

Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who is leading the legal team, said Randle and Fletcher recently provided depositions regarding the massacre, testifying about the flashbacks they continue to experience.

“The massacre left both of their families, as well as Mr. Ellis’ family, without sufficient resources to provide the needed physical and emotional support to overcome the terror of the violent incident,” Solomon-Simmons said.

Ellis, who turned 100 in January, reportedly is in good health. He is a World War II veteran and served in the Army in a segregated antiaircraft artillery battalion.

The lawsuit was filed in September in Tulsa County District Court and names as defendants the city of Tulsa, the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Tulsa County Commission, the Tulsa County sheriff and others. It argues that the massacre created a public nuisance, the effects of which still haunt north Tulsa’s Black community.

Other plaintiffs include a handful of descendants of survivors, Vernon AME Church and the Tulsa African Ancestral Society.

Over the years, a number of massacre-related lawsuits have been pursued, all of them unsuccessfully. Most prominent was a 2003 federal lawsuit that was tripped up over the statute of limitations.

Attorneys believe the outcome of the new suit will be different because it relies on the state’s definition of a public nuisance, for which there’s no statute of limitations.

In addition to the nuisance claim, the suit makes one other claim — that the city, county and chamber have unjustly enriched themselves by appropriating the story of Greenwood and using it to make money.

Video: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921.

A history of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921.


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