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“The City Failed Us”: Tulsa Massacre survivors, descendants appeal to Congress

by Nate Morris
tulsa race massacre

Viola Fletcher, the oldest living survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre, testifies before the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hearing on “Continuing Injustice: The Centennial of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre” on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 19, 2021. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

“Mr. Mayor, hear me now!” US Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee said as she addressed Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum at today’s powerful Congressional hearing. “The time [for reparations] is now!”

The nearly three-hour hearing before a House Judiciary Subcommittee included emotional testimony from the three living survivors of Tulsa’s 1921 race massacre.

Viola Fletcher (107), Leslie Randle (106) and Hughes Van Ellis (100) spoke before the subcommittee to share their stories and call for justice.

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Massacre survivors share their stories on a national stage

“I will never forget the violence of the White mob when we left our home,” Viola (Mother) Fletcher testified. “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street, I still smell smoke and see fire.”

Mother Fletcher said she could still “hear the screams. I’ve lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not.”

Her brother, Mr. Van Ellis (Uncle Redd), followed up on his sister’s comments with powerful testimony of his own. “We aren’t just Black and White pictures on a screen,” he said. “We were there. We’re still here”.

“We are not asking for a handout,” he continued, choking back tears, “we are asking for a chance to be treated like a first-class citizen.”

Leslie Randle (Mother Randle), who was six years old at the time of the massacre, called on Congress to act where the city has failed.

“I survived the 1921 race massacre and I have survived a hundred years of pain after,” she said. “By the grace of God, I am still here… I believe that I am still here to share it with you. Hopefully, now, y’all will listen to us.”

City of Tulsa continues to deny restitution for survivors and descendants

The destruction of Black Wall Street and Greenwood in the massacre destroyed hundreds of businesses and left more than 9,000 homeless. No restitution or reparations have ever been paid. When asked last year whether he would support calls for financial reparations for survivors and descendants, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said he would not.

“The issue of reparations is much more divisive than work that we’re trying to build community consensus around,” Mayor Bynum told the Christian Science Monitor in October. “And so what I don’t want to do is introduce the issue of reparations and erode support for the other work that we’re trying to do.”

The call for reparations grows louder

Members of Congress on the committee rebuked the failure of the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma to pay restitution to survivors and descendants.

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“Racism is when a group of our elders come to our halls to testify about the massacre they survived without any clear commitment from our leaders as to the reparations they are owed,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “That is outright racism. Full stop.”

“It was the failure of our government that helped enable the violent massacre. It was a failure of our leaders for being complicit in white supremacist violence,” Bush continued. “Racism was alive when a White mob burned Tulsa to a crisp, and it is alive now as we debate the merits of repairing harm.”

This was not the first time that a Congressional committee held a hearing about the massacre. Many congressional representatives referenced a 2007 hearing which featured testimony from John Hope Franklin.

“Mr. Franklin spent his whole life fighting for justice,” said State Representative Regina Goodwin, a descendant herself. “Reparations are due, restoration is due, restitution is due… we’ve got three great examples staring us in the face, crying out for justice. All we have to do is answer.”

6 comments

Terri Schell May 20, 2021 - 3:31 pm

Viola Fletcher is my boyfriends mother and is the sweetest woman in the world and is sharp as a tack. What she has seen and been through would of killed a lesser person, yet she has never complained. These survivors voices need to be heard. The time for the Tulsa Race Riot no longer being swept under the carpet is now. Tulsa Mayor Bynum is a joke. His actions along with the actions of Oklahoma Governor Stitt proves racism is alive and well in Oklahoma. These white men do not care about these survivors, and for that they should be ashamed. Thank you for sharing your story Ms. Vi. You are the strongest woman I know!

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Pamela May 23, 2021 - 11:24 pm

Reparations should be paid. All those white citizens families benefitted from the destruction of all those black businesses. The businesses had insurance that white Tulsa insurance companies never paid their claims. The black citizens losses were the white citizens and their children’s and descendants gains. Yes, reparations are due in a just society, but Tulsa does not seem to be that.

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Congressman introduces reparations bill for survivors of Tulsa Race Massacre May 25, 2021 - 10:22 am

[…] will never forget the violence of the White mob when we left our home,” Viola (Mother) Fletcher testified before Congress last week. “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street, I still smell […]

Reply
Congressman introduces reparations bill for Tulsa Race Massacre survivors May 25, 2021 - 10:30 am

[…] will never forget the violence of the White mob when we left our home,” Viola (Mother) Fletcher testified before Congress last week. “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street, I still smell […]

Reply
Congressman introduces bill providing reparations for Tulsa Race Massacre survivors May 25, 2021 - 11:53 am

[…] will never forget the violence of the White mob when we left our home,” Viola (Mother) Fletcher testified before Congress last week. “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street, I still smell […]

Reply
Pres. Joe Biden to visit survivors, descendants in Tulsa for Race Massacre Centennial May 25, 2021 - 4:36 pm

[…] TULSA, Okla. – President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will travel to Tulsa, Okla. to participate in commemorative centennial events for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The announcement comes just days after descendants and survivors of the Massacre testified before a congressional subcommittee on Capitol Hill.  […]

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