Jayla Whitfield-Anderson and Marquise Francis, Yahoo, July 11, 2023
The three remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — all over 100 years old — are vowing to continue the years-long fight for restitution after an Oklahoma judge late last week dismissed their lawsuit seeking reparations for the ongoing harm caused by a hate-filled, violent rampage that destroyed their once thriving majority Black community a century ago.
“This isn’t over, we’re not done,” Sara Solfanelli of Schulte Roth & Zabel, an attorney with the plaintiffs’ legal team, told Yahoo News. “This should not have been dismissed at this stage.”
Damario Solomon-Simmons, a civil rights attorney for the survivors, called the decision by Judge Caroline Wall “disrespectful” after it was dropped without notice on Friday evening.
Since the denial of reparations for the three survivors of the massacre, experts and advocates say the push for national reparations is more important than ever before.
“I’m not throwing up my hands,” Dr. Ron Daniels, the president of the National Reparations Commission, an assembly of reparations supporters, told Yahoo News. “It demonstrates the utter necessity to continue to fight and the need for federal reparations.”
The fight to secure reparations for African Americans whose ancestors suffered the harms of slavery has been ongoing for decades. In 2020, the murder of George Floyd renewed the impetus for reparations, but federal legislation in Congress remains stagnant.
Starting in 1989, and every year since then through 2017, the late Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced House Resolution 40, a house bill that was reintroduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, in 2021, to create a national commission to study and develop reparations. “HR 40 is 38 years on the books waiting for someone to say yes,” Sheila Jackson Lee said at a conference in Evanston, Ill., last year.
In May, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., proposed another piece of legislation to demand federal reparations of up to $14 trillion for those who are descendants of African slaves. “The United States has a moral and legal obligation to provide reparations for the enslavement of Africans and its lasting harm on the lives of millions of Black people,” Bush said, adding that the future of the United States depends on its repayment.
According to a 2023 national University of Massachusetts Amherst poll, roughly 7 in 10 Americans believe that reparations are not owed to descendants of those enslaved in the U.S.
Yahoo News spoke to five experts on what the Tulsa lawsuit dismissal means for the national fight for reparations:
William A. Darity Jr., Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at Duke University, and author of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century
“Piecemeal, uncoordinated efforts to achieve reparations at the local and state levels or through the courts invariably will be insufficient for genuine redress for Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved in the United States. African American reparations is necessarily a federal project.
Many Americans are under the mistaken belief that Black reparations must be paid by, de facto, taking dollars out of white people’s pockets and putting them into black people’s pockets. No serious national reparations plan would involve that type of financing mechanism. … An expenditure of $14 trillion, sufficient to eliminate the black-white wealth gap, could be financed without raising taxes and without triggering significant inflation.”