Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors Testify To Congress, Appeal For Reparations

On Wednesday (May 19), three living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre testified in front of Congress members, making appeals for reparations and formal acknowledgement of what happened 100 years ago. 

“I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire,” said Viola “Mother” Fletcher, who was seven years old at the time of the massacre. “I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not, and other survivors do not. And our descendants do not.” 

On May 31, 1921 a white mob stormed the Greenwood District of Tulsa, also known as “Black Wall Street” due to its corridor of thriving Black owned businesses. 

Mother Fletcher, along with Hugh Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle shared their stories and the impact of the Massacre on their lives and the Black community in Tulsa. 

Van Ellis, who was a few months old at the time of the Massacre, said he lives with the memories of Greenwood and the “thought of what it could have been.”

“We aren’t black and white pictures on a screen. We are flesh and blood. I was there. I’m still here,” the World War II veteran said. “I’m not asking for a handout. I’m asking to be treated like a first-class citizen.” 

Randle, who is 106 years old, joined the hearing virtually and described the gory scene in the aftermath of the Massacre. Randle said her family ran for their lives and felt no protection from officials who “were filled with so much hate… for no reason except that we are Black people.” 

“We have waited too long, and I am tired,” she said. “We are tired. Lastly, I am asking you today to give us some peace. Please give me, my family and my community some justice.” 

Last year, the survivors and their families filed a lawsuit calling for compensation, due to the legacy of devastation the Massacre had on the Black community in Tulsa. 

“In short, present day racial and economic disparities in Tulsa can be traced back to the massacre. In America Tulsa is a microcosm of what has happened to the African American community in this country,” Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said during the hearing. “Congress needs to step up.” 

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has supported legislation to recognize the 100th anniversary of the Massacre and has carried the torch on reparations legislation for Black Americans. Lee called on Republican Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum to support the survivors and their families in pursuing reparations by giving them the resources to do so. 

“The time is now,” Lee said.

Photos: Getty Images

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