H. R. 1843
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
April 1, 2009
Mr. Conyers (for himself, Mr. Nadler of New York, Mr. Scott of Virginia, Ms. Waters, Mr. Cleaver, Ms. Lee of California, Mr. Grijalva, and Ms. Jackson-Lee of Texas) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
To provide a mechanism for a determination on the merits of the claims brought by survivors and descendants of the victims of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Race Riot of 1921 but who were denied that determination.
This Act may be cited as the
John Hope Franklin Tulsa-Greenwood
Race Riot Claims Accountability Act of 2009.
The Congress makes the following findings:
In 1921, Greenwood
(a community in Tulsa, Oklahoma) was one of the most prosperous
African-American communities in the United States. Serving over 8,000
residents, Greenwood’s commercial district was known nationally as the
Negro Wall Street. The community boasted two newspapers, over a
dozen churches, and hundreds of African-American-owned businesses.
On the evening of May 31, 1921, the African-American Greenwood community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was ravaged by a White mob. By the conclusion of the riot at midday, June 1, virtually every building in a 42-square-block area of the community—homes, schools, churches, and businesses—was burned to the ground and thousands were left homeless. Over 1,200 homes were destroyed. Every church, school, and business in Greenwood was set on fire. Approximately 8,000 African-Americans were left homeless and penniless. Unable to rebuild, thousands of residents spent the winter of 1921–1922 in tents.
Credible evidence supports the belief that up to 300 African-Americans were killed during the riot. As many victims were buried in unmarked graves, an exact accounting is impossible.
In the wake of the White mob destruction of the Greenwood District, a State-convened grand jury officially placed responsibility for the violence on the African-American community, exonerating Whites of all responsibility. Neither the State nor the city undertook any investigations or prosecutions, and documents relating to the riot vanished from State archives. Ultimately, no convictions were obtained for the incidents of murder, arson, or larceny connected with the riot.
None of the more than 100 contemporaneously filed lawsuits by residents and property owners in Greenwood were successful in recovering damages from insurance companies to assist in the reconstruction of the community. After the city attempted to block their redevelopment efforts, victims were forced to rebuild with their own resources or abandon the community.
State and local governments suppressed or ignored issues and claims arising from the 1921 riot, effectively excising it from collective memory, until the Oklahoma Legislature created a commission to study the event in 1997. The commission’s February 28, 2001, report uncovered new information and detailed, for the first time, the extent of involvement by the State and city government in prosecuting and erasing evidence of the riot (Okla. Stat. Tit. 74 Section 8000.1 (West 2005)).
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, and even deputized and armed many Whites who were part of a mob that killed, looted, and burned down the Greenwood area.
Based on new information contained in the report, the Greenwood claimants filed suit, pursuant to the laws codifed in sections 1981, 1983, and 1985 of title 42 of the United States Code and the 14th amendment, seeking damages for the injuries sustained in the riot as a result of the government’s involvement. Their claims were dismissed as time barred by the court, and so were not determined on the merits. 382 F.3d 1206 (10th Cir. 2004), rehrg en banc denied (with dissent), 391 F. 3d 1155 (10th Cir. 2004), cert denied Alexander v. State of Oklahoma, 544 U.S. 1044 (2005).
Determination on merits for Greenwood claimants
Any Greenwood claimant who has not previously obtained a determination on the merits of a Greenwood claim may, in a civil action commenced not later than 5 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, obtain that determination.
Intent of Congress as to remedial nature of section
It is the intent of Congress that this section be liberally construed so as to effectuate its remedial purpose of giving a full determination on the merits for each Greenwood claim denied that determination.
In this Act—
the term Greenwood claimant means an individual who filed a discrimination complaint arising from conduct connected to the May 31, 1921, race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and
the term Greenwood claim means a complaint filed in the Alexander v. State of Oklahoma litigation that was dismissed as time barred by the Federal court.