Wess H. Young Sr. 1921 Race Riot survivor, WW II Veteran, Father, Grandfather, great-grandfather and friend passed this afternoon, September 30, 2014 at 4:00 pm in Dallas, Texas. He was surrounded by his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren. His wife of 60+ years, Cathryn J. Young passed December 1, 2013. Mr. Young was 97 years old. Mr. Young was a great man, a true warrior and patriot. It was a great pleasure getting to know and represent him in our attempts to get justice for him and the other survivors who now number below 50. Below is a summary of the 1921 Greenwood Massacre a/k/a The Tulsa Race Riot
On May 31 and June 1 1921, a mob of over 2000 Whites, under the protection of city and state law, pillaged and destroyed during the worst domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history. The terrorist mob destroyed 36 square blocks killed upwards of 1000 people, and left 10,000 Blacks homeless, destitute, and traumatized. Afterwards city and state officials condone this terrorism, blamed the innocent Blacks, and instituted a cover-up so successful the horrors of the Greenwood Massacre were effectively blotted out of history for almost 80 years. In fact, the cover-up was so successful that while going to school on Greenwood Street, I never once heard about the bombing!!!
The great Dr. W.E.B. Dubois stated “I have never seen a colored community so highly organized as that of Tulsa. The colored people of Tulsa have accumulated property, have established stores and business organizations and have made money in oil.” In fact, Greenwood was so economically self-sufficient, purportedly a dollar circulated within the community fifty times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community. Noted Greenwood historian Scott Ellsworth described Greenwood’s business district and neighborhoods before the massacre:
Over the last 13 years a group of dedicated historians, attorneys, politicians, and community activist have been fighting for Greenwood and its descendants to received proper remembrance, respect, and reparations. In 2003, I was blessed to be a law student member of the Reparations Coordinating Committee (RCC) which was an “all-star” legal team that including Harvard Law and Civil Rights icon Professor Charles Ogletree and the late great Johnnie Cochrane. The RCC filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for Northern Oklahoma. At the time the lawsuit was filed there were still 171 known living survivors of the Greenwood Massacre. This “slam dunk” case for reparations and justice was dismissed due to Statute of Limitations (essentially saying it was too late to file a lawsuit for what happen) first at the district court level, then the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and finally “without comment” by the U.S. Supreme Court. To date there are less than 30 known living survivors of the Greenwood Massacre.
What’s worse daily the survivors are dying knowing that their justice system “without comment” turned their back on them. So, advocates attempted to get a remedy through federal legislation. So, in 2005, I was asked to organize and coordinate a national town hall meeting featuring Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and several survivors to call upon Congress to act. Thetown hall was attended by over 700 people re-energized our drive towards justice calling upon Congress to act. In 2007, we finally won the introduction of bill in congress to remove the statue of limitations from the case, which would have allowed it to move forward. We were even able to secure a congressional hearing. However, the bill never received a house vote and “died.”
In closing, I’m reminded of a verse in the Black National Anthem “stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod” as for over ninety three years the victims of the Greenwood Massacre have been unsuccessfully seeking justice down ever “road” possible only to be struck down with the “chasting rod” of injustice. However, the fight is not over as Rep. John Conyers has introduced a bill in congress to remove the Statue of Limitations which would allow a case to proceed forward. The bill is modeled after the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which provided each surviving Japanese-American unconstitutionally held in concentration camps during WWII $20,000.00 and their descendant $10,000.00. So, there is still hope that we will be able to get justice while some of the survivors are still alive.