dismisses Tulsa race riot lawsuit, citing statute of limitations
Published on: 03/23/04
TULSA, Okla. --
Survivors of a race riot that destroyed Tulsa's black neighborhood 83
years ago cannot seek reparations in court because of the long-expired
statute of limitations, a federal judge has ruled.
The judge dismissed the
lawsuit filed last year against the city and the state by 150 survivors
and about 300 descendants of those who lost property or were killed in
the 1921 riot.
"That plaintiffs' claims are barred by the statute of limitations is
strictly a legal conclusion and does not speak to the tragedy of the
riot or the terrible devastation it caused," U.S. Senior District Judge
James Ellison said.
His decision, issued Friday, was entered into the court's record system
The city and state asked the judge to dismiss the case because of a
two-year statute of limitations in civil cases.
"The court has really indulged any suggestion that the plaintiffs have
asked him to, and he still can't find a way to overcome statute of
limitations," said Larry Simmons, assistant city attorney.
Survivor Otis G. Clark said he was not sure what to make of the ruling
and trusted his attorneys to take the next step.
"I'm 101 years of age, and I'll just leave it to them," said Clark, who
was 18 when he saw a white mob burn his grandparents' and parents'
The survivors' attorney, Charles Ogletree Jr., planned to appeal.
"Even though many are elderly and some are seriously ill, they informed
me this afternoon there is a lot of fight left in them," he said.
The city's then-thriving black community of Greenwood was reduced to
ashes after whites and blacks clashed May 31, 1921, outside a courthouse
where a black man was being held on allegations of assaulting a white
The confirmed death toll was 37, but some estimates range as high as
The plaintiffs alleged the statute of limitations did not apply because
they did not have the information to b ring their suit until a public
commission published a report on the riot in 2001. They also said the
fact that courts were openly hostile to blacks kept survivors from
seeking restitution at the time.
The judge, however, found that riot victims in 1921 condemned the
actions of the National Guard and police department. He also noted that
more than 100 lawsuits were filed against the city and insurance
companies at the time.
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