U.S Court Of Appeals rules against victims in the Tulsa Riot Case

From "The Oklahoma Eagle", Thursday, September 16, 2004
U.S Court Of Appeals rules against victims in the Tulsa Riot Case
By Eddie L Madison, Jr.
Editor Emeritus

Although the U S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit concurs that the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 was indeed "a tragic chapter in our collective history," it has ruled that there is no legal avenue through which the plaintiffs can bring their claims.

In effect, the court held "under Oklahoma's applicable two-year statute of limitations provision, the claims are untimely unless they accrued on or after February 24, 2001."

Plaintiffs, on the other hand, maintain that the claims did not accrue until publication of the (Tulsa Race Riot Commission) Report on February 28,2001. In the action on September 8, the Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court.

The reality of the times worked against the victims of the riot. Moreover, there were decades of silence after the riot, and many facts were not revealed until the filing of the Report by the Tulsa Riot Commission.

Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint on February 24, 2003.

In their complaint they allege civil rights claims under US.c. 1981, 1983, and 1985.

They also brought claims under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause.

Defendants in the case are the State of Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, the Chief of Police of the City of Tulsa, in his official capacity, and the City of Tulsa Police Department.

To date there are 106 survivors of the riot, which occurred May 31-June 1, 1921, destroying 42 square blocks of the Greenwood community, leaving it in ashes. Most accounts report that some 300 were killed. A white mob burned virtually every building the African American section of the city. Estimates of the losses by the Greenwood residents, much like the estimates of persons murdered, vary.

The range of monetary losses runs from $3.5 million to $4 million, according to Alfred L. Brophy, a professor of law at Oklahoma City University. Thousands were left homeless.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs include Dr. Charles Ogletree, Jr. Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass.; Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations (N'COBRA), Washington, D.C.; Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., New York, N.Y., and James O. Goodwin, Tulsa, co-publisher of The Oklahoma Eagle.

In 1997, the Oklahoma state legislature commissioned a study of the Riot. Following four years of intensive study, the bipartisan commission, which consisted of 11 members from various sectors in the community, issued its final report.

The Oklahoma Eagle contacted Mrs. Eddie Faye Gates, a member of the Riot Commission, retired educator, and author, on Tuesday for her response to the Court of Appeals ruling. She had just returned to Tulsa from a business trip to California.

Gates, also chair of Tulsa Riot Survivors Committee, said: "I was devastated by the (Appeals Court) ruling. I attended all of the hearings in Tulsa, and I thought the lawyers did an excellent job. I did not expect the ruling." She had not had an opportunity to talk with Ogletree since returning home.

"I hope we will go on to the U.S. Supreme Court" with the case, Gates said. "Ogletree will call us. We are down, but not out."

While in California, Gates discussed the Tulsa Riot at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., and participated in a book signing at Unity City Public Library in Union City, Calif.

The lawsuit was filed in behalf of the riot survivors and their descendants.

In adopting many of the Report's findings, the state legislature found:

"Official reports and accounts of the time that viewed the Tulsa Race Riot as a 'Negro Uprising' were incorrect. Given the history of racial violence against African Americans in Oklahoma, including numerous lynchings by white mobs, and the breakdown of the rule of law in Tulsa on May 31-June 1, 1921, it is understandable that African Americans believe(d) they needed to assist Tulsa police in protecting Dick Rowland, an African American accused of attempting to rape a white woman (Sarah Page), against an assembled white mob.

"The documentation assembled by The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission provides strong evidence that some local municipal and county officials failed to take actions to calm or contain the situation once violence erupted and, in some cases, became participants in the subsequent violence which took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, and even deputized and armed many whites who were part of the mob that killed, looted, and burned down the Greenwood area."

The Report opined that the National Guard participated in mass arrests of all, or nearly all, of Greenwood's residents. The Report also provided detail concerning the deliberate burning of homes and businesses, burning initiated in many instances, by agents of the government.



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