Bill Filed to Provide Relief from Statutes

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., listens to constituents during a town hall meeting Tuesday, August 13, 2019, at a senior center in Lithonia, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)

WASHINGTON—A bill offering relief from statutes of limitations for claims resulting from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre has been introduced by a Georgia congressman.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (Dem., Ga.) introduced the bill last month.

The bill, which had not been assigned a number at the time of this story  followed the appearance of three elderly massacre survivors and their attorney before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

Congressman Johnson said at that time that he would file the legislation. 

It is similar to a 2009 bill filed by the late U.S. Rep. John Conyers (Dem., Mich.).

That bill passed out of a House subcommittee, but got no further.

Congressman Johnson’s bill would assure that massacre claims “are not unfairly barred by statutes of limitations or laches or other similar provision of any applicable law relating to the timeliness of the filing of claims that might prevent a claim from being heard on its merits.” 

The bill does not define “unfairly barred.”

Federal courts dismissed a 2003 lawsuit seeking restitution for massacre damage because of the statute of limitations on such cases.

A 2020 lawsuit on behalf of survivors and descendants of 1921 property owners seeks damages for what it says are past and continuing injuries.

Statutes of limitations bar most civil and criminal actions after a certain time period.  Their purpose is to assure full and timely access to evidence and witnesses.

Thirty-five square blocks in Tulsa’s all-Black Greenwood district were destroyed in the 1921 massacre, resulting in millions of dollars worth of damage, hundreds of injuries and an unknown number of deaths.

Most of the property belonged to Black Tulsans, and it is believed most of those killed were Black.

Hundreds of claims and lawsuits were filed following the massacre, but all lapsed after one brought against his insurance company by William Redfearn, a white Greenwood business owner, failed.

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