'It's shameful.' Massacre survivors' lawyers demand Tulsa be the next city to pay reparations

Linda Porter of Birmingham, Alabama, kneels at a makeshift memorial of flowers for the Tulsa Race Massacre at stairs leading to a now empty lot near the historic Greenwood district during centennial commemorations on Tuesday in Tulsa.

(CNN)Two years after the Tulsa massacre left some 300 Black people dead and a once-booming neighborhood destroyed, another White mob attacked a Black enclave in Florida.

The incident, known as the Rosewood massacre, would end with at least eight casualties: six Black people and two White people. Historians say the violence erupted after a White woman claimed she was a assaulted by a Black man.
Similar to Tulsa, the community was decimated and many survivors left and never returned.
But in 1994, Florida's legislature would pass a bill that awarded $150,000 payments to survivors who could prove they owned property during the massacre and set up a scholarship fund for their descendants who attended state colleges.
As Tulsa commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the attack on "Black Wall Street" this week, massacre survivors and their descendants continued their fight for reparations, demanding the city atone for the trauma they've endured for decades.
On Monday, Oklahoma State Sen. Kevin Matthews -- who chairs 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission -- told CNN an event was canceled because of a financial gift requested by the three remaining survivors of the massacre. Matthews said the commission and lawyers for the survivors agreed the commission would raise $100,000 per survivor, and provide a seed gift of $2 million for a reparation coalition fund. However, Matthews said the survivors' lawyers reached out a day after their agreement and increased the amount to $1 million per survivor and a $50 million in seed money.
"We could not respond to those demands," Matthews said. "To be clear, I absolutely want the survivors, the descendants, and others that were affected, to be financially and emotionally supported. However, this is not the way, no matter how hard we tried."
Damario Solomon Simmons, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in a reparations lawsuit against the city of Tulsa that is separate from negotiations with the commission, told CNN in a statement there was never a non-negotiable demand for $50 million. And Simmons' co-counsel Sara E. Solfanelli, of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, told CNN the $1 million per survivor request was also negotiable.
Simmons said the legal team submitted a list of seven requests to ensure the survivors' participation in the commission's scheduled events and answers to those requests were not provided.
Non-negotiable demands included a fund that would provide direct financial support to survivors and descendants, and for the fund to be administered by descendants and community members and held in a Black-owned bank, Simmons said.
"We have three remaining survivors," Simmons said in a statement. "They will be heard. They will live with grace and dignity. The time for justice is now."
Last September, a lawsuit seeking reparations was filed in the Tulsa County District Court by Justice for Greenwood Advocates -- a team of civil and human rights lawyers. The plaintiffs include 106-year-old massacre survivor Lessie Randle, Vernon A.M.E Church -- the only building left standing after an angry White mob burned down Black-owned homes and business -- and relatives of other victims.
The legal battle comes as lawmakers and elected officials across the country renew conversations about reparations following the racial reckoning that started last year. And while cities have had the support to pass and propose reparations programs, getting federal legislation won't be as simple. In April, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 40, which would create a commission to study reparations for descendants of enslaved Americans and recommend remedies for the harm caused by slavery and the discriminatory policies. The bill, however, isn't likely to become law because it faces opposition from some Democrats and most Republicans and it's not expected to receive the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate.
While the legislation stalls, leaders in the fight for reparations continue to pressure federal and state lawmakers to atone for the country's past sins.
"Reparations is a matter of urgency, it always has been," said Dreisen Heath, a researcher and advocate for Human Rights Watch. "How do we get to reconciliation without reparations? You can't."

How other reparations programs work

Heath said existing reparations programs in Rosewood and other communities could serve as a model for Tulsa.
In Evanston, Ilinois, city officials in March approved the first batch of funds -- which amounts to $400,000 -- in a program offering reparations to Black residents whose families have been affected by decades of discriminatory housing practices. The move made Evanston the first local community in the country to launch a reparations program for Black people.
Robin Rue, a former Evanston council member who heads the city's reparations committee, said the city will fund the program with sales tax generated from recreational marijuana. Black residents will be eligible for up to $25,000 in housing grants to help purchase a home, pay off a mortgage or renovate a home. Applicants must only be able to prove that they lived in Evanston between 1919-1969, which is before a fair housing ordinance was passed, or that they are a descendant of someone who was, Rue said.