Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors Could See Reparations After Judge’s Ruling—Joining These Similar Cases


Survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and their families may receive the reparations they were previously denied as the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed to review the appeal of several still-living victims seeking payment for the losses they endured when a neighborhood, known as “Black Wall Street,” was looted and hundreds of people were killed, setting up what could potentially be the latest court-ordered reparations payments over racially motivated injustice, following several other high-profile cases.

Key Facts

Rosewood Race Massacre—In the 1990s, survivors of the 1923 Rosewood Race Massacre and their heirs were the first group of race riot survivors to be compensated by the government for their material losses after a white mob destroyed the primarily Black town of Rosewood in Florida, killing six Black people—$150,000 was given to each of nine living survivors, $500,000 was split among descendants of those killed and $4,000 scholarships were given to the youngest generation of Rosewood family members.

Tuskegee—The government in the 1970s starting making reparations payments to Black men who were lied to about participating in a study to find a cure for syphilis when, in reality, they were part of a federally financed experiment into untreated syphilis—victims of the Tuskegee study were given the equivalent of $68 million today following a 1974 lawsuit by the NAACP, and the government also agreed to pay for the medical care of surviving participants and family members who were infected because of the experiment.

Japanese-American Incarceration—Through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, surviving Japanese-Americans who were relocated and detained in camps during World War II were given $20,000 starting in 1990—$47,989 today, adjusted for inflation—and a formal apology by then-President Ronald Reagan.

Chicago police torture—Fifty-seven men who were tortured by Chicago police commander Jon Graham Burge and the detectives he commanded between 1972 and 1991 were given $5.5 million in reparations by the city in 2015, and it the city of Chicago also financed a Torture Justice Center that provided counciling to survivirs of Burge and those of other policy brutalities; the city additionally supported a public memorial, and students now learn about police torture in public school.

Forced sterilization—Virginia, North Carolina and California have all launched programs to compensative victims of eugenics laws passed in 32 states between 1907 and 1932 that allowed the government to sterilize the “insane,” “feebleminded,” “dependent” and “diseased”—laws that impacted more than 60,000 people, most of whom were Black women; $4.5 million will be paid to victims in California, $25,000 will be given to each victim in Virginia and $10 million has been set aside in North Carolina.

Key Background

The nine judges of Oklahoma’s highest court will review the survivors’ appeal one month after Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice based on arguments from state and local government agencies, NPR reported. The case has been brought by three living survivors—Viola Fletcher, 109, Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and Hughes Van Ellis Sr., 102—and the families of other survivors to seek what attorneys have called “justice in their lifetime.”The lawsuit argues that the destruction of north Tulsa’s predominately Black communities resulted in still-existing financial disparities between Black and white residents as victims were never compensated by insurance companies after their homes and businesses were wiped out—to the tune of $27 million in today’s dollars, a state commission report says—by a mob of white looters and arsonists, some of whom were supported and given weapons by civil officials.The Tulsa plaintiffs are asking for what has been done for other survivors of racially-motivated crimes that were supported or ignored by government officials, including the Rosewood Race Massacre, Chicago police tortures and the Syphilis Study at Tuskegee.


A growing number of Democratic lawmakers have recently spoken up in support of reparations for the Black descendants of slaves. Calls for slavery reparations are not new, but were re-sparked after the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota led to a national racial reckoning. The California Reparations Task Force has called for cash payments to be made for the descendants of slaves, and nonprofit news source CalMatters calculated an eligible Black resident who has lived in the state for 70 years could be owed up to $1.2 million under the recommendation. Other state and local governments looking into reparations for slavery and institutional racism include St. Paul, Minnesota, and Evanston, Illinois, where more than 100 residents have already received payments under the Restorative Housing Reparations Program.

Further Reading

Oklahoma Supreme Court Grants Motion to Retain Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors’ Case (Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP)

New Research Shows That Reparation Payments Could Increase Life Expectancy Of Black Americans (Forbes)

Tennessee County Considers Using Federal Covid Dollars For Reparations Programs (Forbes)

11 U.S. Mayors Say They’ll Test Reparations For Black Residents (Forbes)

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