For Immediate Release
Contact Persons: Charles Ogletree (617)496-2054
Adjoa Aiyetoro (202) 829-5169
REPARATIONS COORDINATING COMMITTEE WILL APPEAL DISMISSAL OF CASE TO
OBTAIN JUSTICE FOR SURVIVORS OF THE MASSACRE OF "BLACK WALL STREET"
"Down but not out" is the view of the survivors of the massacre
of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma (better known as "Black
Wall Street"), their many supporters and their attorneys, the
Reparations Coordinating Committee (RCC). In a 27-page order, Judge
James O. Ellison of the Northern District of Oklahoma dismissed
Alexander v. Governor of the State of Oklahoma, et. al., brought by
125 Survivors against the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma for
this 1921 massacre.
Ironically, Judge Ellison agreed with Plaintiffs' counsel that
the 125 survivors did not have a meaningful opportunity to pursue
their legal rights after the massacre. "The political and social
climate after the riot simply was not one wherein the Plaintiffs had a
true opportunity to pursue their legal rights." Yet, despite this
finding he concludes that the 125 survivors should be denied their day
in court because of the Statute of Limitations.
Professor Charles Ogletree, lead counsel for the plaintiffs,
says "We will continue this legal battle on behalf of our clients who
have waited 80 years to get their day in court. We are appealing this
case because the dismissal continues the travesty of justice suffered
by the survivors and undermines fundamental principles of justice upon
which a democratic society is based."
Judge Ellison also agrees with Plaintiffs, their supporters and
attorneys that this case is about more than justice for the survivors
and their descendants. It is about justice for the Greenwood District
and the need to heal race relations in Tulsa. "The Riot, costly in
terms of lives and property, destroyed the African American Community
of Greenwood and affects relations among races in the City of Tulsa
and the State of Oklahoma to this date."
Randall Robinson and Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Jesse Climenko
Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, organized the RCC in 2000.
Professor Ogletree and Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, Legal Counsel for the
National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA),
co-chair the RCC. Other lawyers on the RCC team include Johnnie
Cochran, Michael Hausfeld, recognized as one of the country's top
class action lawyers, Michele Roberts, Washingtonian Magazine's lawyer
of the year for 2002, Dennis Sweet, one of the nation's pre-eminent
tort lawyers, Faye' Rose Sanders, an activist lawyer involved in the
Black Farmers' litigation, Professor Eric J. Miller of Western New
England Law School and Leslie Mansfield of the Tulsa University Legal
Clinic. Plaintiffs' counsel obtained the services of several experts
including John Hope Franklin, the Chairman of President Clinton's Race
Initiative and noted African American historian who is also a
plaintiff in this lawsuit; Professor Alfred L. Brophy of the
University of Alabama Law School, an acknowledged expert on the
Greenwood Massacre, Professor Leon Litwack, one of the foremost
experts on segregation and discrimination during the Jim Crow period,
and Eric D. Caine, M.D., an expert on the psychological and
psychiatric effects of traumatic stress.
In his opinion, Judge Ellison accepted the Plaintiffs' facts,
taken from the 1921 Race Riot Commission's report. However, he
allowed justice to be denied once again for the murder of up to 300
people, primarily African Americans; the destruction of more than 1200
structures including homes, schools, businesses and churches; the
involvement of Tulsa's police force and the Oklahoma's National Guard
in this massacre; and the detention of surviving African American
Greenwood residents in camps until a white person "vouched" for them.
According to Professor Miller, one of the drafters of the lawsuit,
"by dismissing this case and allowing the City and State to win, as
Judge Ellison acknowledges, `on a legal technicality,' the City and
State are permitted to continue to deny their moral and legal
responsibility for the loss of lives, homes and community."
The Reparations Coordinating Committee plans to file an appeal
in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Adjoa Aiyetoro,
"We will turn this stumbling block into a stepping stone. We will
continue to seek justice for our clients and a remedy for these crimes
against people of African descent." Ogletree promises that "this is
not the last of us in Tulsa."
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