“I 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 smoke and see fire. I still hear the screams.”
At 107 years old, Viola Fletcher is the oldest known living survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Her family escaped the terror of the White mob that descended on Greenwood a century ago, but lost everything in the process.
Last week, she, along with her brother Van Ellis (100) and fellow survivor Mother Leslie Randle (106) testified before Congress.
In a powerful and often emotional hearing, the three shared their stories of fleeing their homes as firebombs fell from the sky and shots rang out in the streets.
Nearly all of Greenwood’s homes and businesses were reduced to rubble and hundreds of Black men, women and children were killed.
Bill providing reparations for Tulsa Massacre survivors introduced in Congress
None of these Tulsans have ever received any justice or compensation from the city that was complicit in taking everything from them.
That is why Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia has introduced federal legislation to ensure that the survivors receive reparations.
“The victims of the Tulsa Massacre have been denied justice far too long,” Johnson said in a statement on Twitter. “Their lives, land and Black Wall Street were stolen from them.”
“Creating a cause of action to recover compensation for these wrongs is just one step towards healing.”
Tulsa’s mayor voices opposition to reparations after survivor testimony
Despite decades of calls for reparations, Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum has continued to voice opposition to cash payments for survivors and descendants of the massacre.
“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.”
In an interview just this week with the Tulsa World, Bynum again declined the notion of reparations.
“The problem is, where does the cash come from?” Bynum asked the World after the survivor’s testimony. “The most commonly mentioned way is some sort of legal judgment that would be paid from the city’s sinking fund. That raises property taxes for everybody.”
“We have shifted our economic strategy to north Tulsa,” Bynum continued. “There is over $1 billion of new investment there during this administration.”
Bynum claimed that direct cash payments would not solve inequities within the city.
Former Tulsa judge says city “largely to blame” for perpetuating the massacre
However, for many, this conversation is not one solely about equity or economic development; this is a conversation about justice.
The city’s role in perpetuating the massacre is abundantly clear. In a public meeting last week, former Tulsa County Judge William Kellough said “There was no doubt that White Tulsa officials were largely to blame for the massacre.”
“They not only failed to prevent the bloodshed, but had also deputized White civilians who took part in the burning and the killing.”
Kellough said that the actions of the White mob in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre that destroyed Greenwood was “enabled, incurred and with some participation by the city of Tulsa.”
Rep. Johnson’s bill will be heard by a House Judiciary subcommittee before it moves forward to a larger vote.