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Chairman Nadler Statement for Subcommittee Hearing on "Continuing Injustice: The Centennial of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre"

Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing on "Continuing Injustice: The Centennial of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre:" 

"Today’s hearing is an important opportunity to commemorate the  Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre of 1921 and to consider what legal and policy measures might be enacted to compensate the survivors, their descendants, and Tulsa’s greater Black community.

"Nearly one hundred years ago, in what the late historian John Hope Franklin described as a 'firestorm of hatred and violence that is perhaps unequaled in the peace time history of the United States,' a White mob looted and destroyed nearly forty-square-blocks of Tulsa’s Greenwood district, a segregated yet vibrant Black enclave, whose prosperous businesses made it known across the country as the 'Black Wall Street.'

"The reportedly 5,000 to 10,000-strong mob destroyed many of those businesses, along with the district’s hospitals, churches, and private homes, leaving almost 9,000 Greenwood residents homeless.  

"According to a 2001 report issued by an Oklahoma state commission to study the Massacre, one credible contemporary source estimated the death toll at 300 hundred people, far higher than the official record made at the time.

 

"The 2001 commission also found credible contemporary reports of mass burials.  In 2018 the City of Tulsa finally began the process of locating these mass graves.  It is only within the past year that state archeologists pinpointed the location of one potential mass gravesite.  Authorities are now taking steps to exhume the bodies for identification and reburial.

"I have said so before, and I will say it again—the Tulsa-Greenwood Massacre can fairly be described as an act of ethnic cleansing, which was subsequently wiped from the history books for many decades despite having made national news at the time.

"We are honored to have with us today some of the last remaining survivors of the Massacre.  I appreciate the fact that this Subcommittee can play a role in ensuring that this history is never lost again by hearing directly from those who experienced the tragic injustice that unfolded in Tulsa during the overnight hours of May 31 and June 1, 1921.

"In addition to commemorating the Massacre’s victims, this hearing is also another opportunity to consider the Massacre’s long-lasting repercussions for the survivors, their descendants, and Tulsa’s greater Black community, and what role Congress can play in remedying this historic injustice.

"We are honored to have with us today some of the last remaining survivors of the Massacre.  I appreciate the fact that this Subcommittee can play a role in ensuring that this history is never lost again by hearing directly from those who experienced the tragic injustice that unfolded in Tulsa during the overnight hours of May 31 and June 1, 1921.

"In addition to commemorating the Massacre’s victims, this hearing is also another opportunity to consider the Massacre’s long-lasting repercussions for the survivors, their descendants, and Tulsa’s greater Black community, and what role Congress can play in remedying this historic injustice.

"The 2001 commission report found significant evidence demonstrating not only that local and state authorities failed their responsibility to maintain civil order, but also that government agents actually aided the mob in carrying out the Massacre.  Thousands of Black residents were interned for days and weeks after the Massacre under the justification that it was for their so-called protection.

"A majority of the 2001 commission members declared at that time that 'reparations to the historic Greenwood community in real and tangible form would be good public policy and do much to repair the emotional and physical scars of this terrible incident in our shared past.'  It is now twenty years later and neither the State nor the City of Tulsa has directly compensated survivors or their descendants. 

"Survivors and their descendants have tried to seek legal redress from the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma for Massacre-related harms.

"Unfortunately, these claims have never been decided on the merits.  In 2004, a divided Tenth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision dismissing Greenwood survivors’ claims, holding that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and that no equitable tolling to the statute of limitations period applied.

"In 2007, when I was Chair of this Subcommittee, we held a hearing on legislation authored by the late former Chairman of the Full Committee, John Conyers, that would have created a new federal cause of action for Tulsa-Greenwood Massacre claimants that would permit their cases to be decided on the merits.

"Similar legislation that helps address relevant statutes of limitation issues that have bedeviled these claims in the past certainly remains one potential avenue for survivors and their descendants to obtain compensation.

"The Subcommittee should also examine other proposals for reparations, with particular consideration given to the Massacre’s contribution to the racial and economic disparities that exist in Tulsa today.

"I want to commend Chair Cohen for holding today’s hearing. I also thank Congressman Hank Johnson for his leadership on the commemoration efforts spearheaded by the Congressional Black Caucus, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee for her efforts to secure a House vote on a resolution recognizing the centenary of the massacre.

"I look forward to hearing from all of today’s witnesses, and with that I yield back."
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