Originally Published: 08 JUL 23 19:00 ET
Updated: 08 JUL 23 19:41 ET
By Omar Jimenez and Rebekah Riess, CNN
(CNN) — An Oklahoma judge dismissed the reparations lawsuit filed by the last three known survivors of the Tulsa race massacre on Friday, court records show.
The three had been locked in a yearslong court battle against the City of Tulsa and other groups and officials over the opportunities taken from them when the city’s Greenwood neighborhood was burned to the ground in 1921.
Contemporary reports of deaths began at 36, but historians now believe as many as 300 people may have died, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Thousands were left homeless.
Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, Viola Fletcher, 109, and her brother, Hughes Van Ellis, 102, were among the plaintiffs, CNN previously reported.
The plaintiffs had argued that the damage inflicted during the massacre was a “public nuisance” from the start and were seeking relief from that nuisance as well as to “recover for unjust enrichment” others have gained from the “exploitation of the massacre.
Cornell’s Legal Information Institute defines a public nuisance as when a person or entity “unreasonably interferes with a right that the general public shares in common.”
However, the City of Tulsa requested the lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice against refiling, arguing in part that “simply being connected to a historical event does not provide a person with unlimited rights to seek compensation from any project in any way related to that historical event.”
“If that were the case, every person connected to any historical event could make similar unjust enrichment claims against every museum or point of remembrance,” the city claimed.
Judge Caroline Wall on Friday found that “upon hearing the arguments of counsel and considering the briefs filed by counsel for plaintiffs and counsel for defendants” the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment petition “should and shall be” dismissed with prejudice, court records show.
Ike Howard, grandson of Viola Fletcher, said he was angry about the ruling,
“They were blighted and once again not made whole,” Howard said.
“We still remain blighted. We wish the D.O.J would investigate. … How can we get justice in the same city that created the nuisance? Is justice only for the rich?”
Family attorneys are expected to address the possibility of an appeal. Family members for Randle could not immediately be contacted.
Ed Mitzen, who made a private $1 million donation to the three survivors, told CNN on Saturday, “The Oklahoma State government should be ashamed of itself for not doing right by these three wonderful people, one of whom fought for this country in World War II.”
Fletcher was 7 years old when a violent White mob targeted Black residents and destroyed her community’s thriving Black economic hub.
“My life was taken from me,” Van Ellis previously said as he reflected on his family fleeing Greenwood when he was only a few months old.
He previously told CNN his family and other survivors left their homes and opportunities behind.
“I lost 102 years. I don’t want nobody else to lose that,” Van Ellis said.
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