Survivors Serve Open Records Request for Documents Related to Search for Mass Graves Connected to 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Lessie Benningfield ("Mother Randle"), Viola Fletcher ("Mother Fletcher"), and Hughes (News - Alert) Van Ellis, all centenarian survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, have served open records requests (ORR) for documents related to the ongoing search for mass graves in Tulsa.
Filed with the City of Tulsa Mayor's Office, the City of Tulsa City Council, the State of Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, the Tulsa County Courthouse, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Governor of the State of Oklahoma, the ORR is the latest legal action taken to help provide healing and justice to the survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, their descendents, and the rest of the Greenwood community.
Twenty years after a state commission appointed by the Oklahoma State Legislature recommended a search for unmarked graves near the site of the Massacre, the excavation only recently began in late 2020. Resuming in June 2021, forensic scientists and archaeologists have since unearthed more than 30 coffins in a mass grave, with some remains taken to a laboratory for preliminary analysis. The open records request aims to ensure that the search is conducted in a fully transparent manner, and that justice is achieved for the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
"We are deeply disturbed and alarmed by the possibility that some of the bodies recently found could be those of the same people we saw in the street in the wake of the Massacre, who were senselessly and violently murdered," said other Randle and Mother Fletcher. All three of the survivors state "we are serving these requests to ensure complete transparency and justice for all bodies discovered through this ongoing search, their families, and the Greenwood community."
"The City of Tulsa and related governmental agencies and bodies have denied justice to survivors and concealed the truth about the Massacre for 100 years. In order to ensure that they are transparent and that justice is no longer denied, it is crucial that we are given access to these documents," said Damario Solomon-Simmons of SolomonSimmonsLaw, a Tulsa-based civil and human rights attorney who represents the three remaining survivors.
Pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, 51 O.S. §§ 24A.1 et seq., the ORR requests a copy of all documents regarding, discussing, referencing, or wherein the subject matter relates to the search for and/or investigation of mass graves connected to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
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.
A large team of more than twenty litigators, including Damario Solomon-Simmons and Kymberli J. M. Heckenkemper of SolomonSimmonsLaw, PLLC; international law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel; J. Spencer Bryan and Steven Terrill of Bryan & Terrill, PLLC; Professor Eric Miller (News - Alert) of Loyola Marymount College of Law; Maynard M. Henry, Sr.; and 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 draw attention to the 100 years of continued harm the Tulsa Race Massacre has caused Black Tulsans.
An amended petition the team filed in the Tulsa County District Court in February 2021 seeks to abate the public nuisance of racial disparities, economic inequalities, insecurity and trauma that the City of Tulsa's and other entities' 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.