Race riot legal action likely, reparations expert says
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Feb 24, 2003
1/20/13 at 8:14 AM
A Harvard legal scholar will address survivors of the
infamous 1921 tragedy; losses were estimated at $3 million.
Litigation concerning the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot is imminent, civil rights
scholar Charles Ogletree said Sunday
Ogletree, a Harvard University law
professor involved in the slavery reparations movement, will speak to riot
survivors on Monday and appear at a
noon press conference at Mount Zion
Baptist Church, 419 N. Elgin Ave.
Ogletree appeared at the University
of Tulsa last fall and while in town
met with the Tulsa Reparations Coalition, a group committed to cash payments to riot survivors. Such payments were recommended in the 2001
report of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission but have received no support
from state or local officials.
Private efforts have met with modest success, resulting in about $300
being disbursed to each of the more
than 100 living survivors.
Property losses from the May 31-June 1, 1921, riot were estimated at
$3 million to $5 million in 1921.
Thirty-eight verified deaths -- 28
black, 12 white -- have been attributed to the 16-hour melee, although
most experts believe the actual number was higher. Few property owners
were compensated because most insurance policies excluded riot damage, and legal authorities ruled neither the city nor county was liable.
Owners -- both black and white --
filed hundreds of lawsuits against the
city and county as well as individuals
and insurance companies. None
seems to have been successful.
The most vigorously pursued was
one undertaken by white businessman
William Redfearn against his insurance company. It reached the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, which ruled
against him in 1926.
Redfearn, who owned a hotel, movie theater and store on North Greenwood Avenue, contended what happened on the morning of June 1 --
when most of the property damage
occurred -- was not a riot at all, but
a police action. He produced witnesses who testified that policemen participated in arson, burglary, robbery and perhaps murder. A few
witnesses, including a sheriff's deputy, identified
specific officers. Most said the men in question
wore badges or ribbons but not necessarily uni
But neither Redfearn nor the Oklahoma attorney general, who tried Police Chief John Gustafson on malfeasance charges, could prove any officers carried out crimes while on duty.
Under normal circumstances the statute of limitations would have run on a civil suit for damages, but the statute can be suspended under certain circumstances. Whether the litigation
currently contemplated would seek such a suspension or take a new tack is not known.
Randy Krehbiel, World staff writer, can be reached at
581-8365 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.