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The world received a glimpse into the minds and hearts of Mother Viola Ford Fletcher (108), Mother Lessie Benningfield Randle (107), and Uncle Hughs Van Ellis (101) on Wednesday as they accepted a collective check worth $1 million dollars.
Inside the Greenwood Cultural Center, the grandson of 108-year-old Mother Fletcher, the oldest known living survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre, passionately shared what the survivors envision for the future of Greenwood, home to the original Black Wall Street.
“They’re realists. They understand we need to collectively come together and do the right thing. They know the baseball stadium wouldn’t be here if [the Massacre] didn’t happen,” Ike Howard told a group of community members, relatives, and reporters inside the Greenwood Cultural Center on Wednesday as the three living survivors accepted a collective $1 million dollar check from New York couple Ed and Lisa Mitzen, with their New York-based nonprofit Business for Good Foundation™.
“They’re very smart people,” Howard said of his grandmother and the other two survivors. “They would like to see more opportunities in the Black community,”
The grandson of Greenwood’s eldest matriarch explained how the survivors want to see a hospital rebuilt in north Tulsa and economic development in north Tulsa. He also made clear what they don’t want to see.
“They would not like to see a freeway going through the middle of Greenwood,” Howard added, referencing a stain on the community that has literally divided Black Wall Street in half.
“Every time we come here we go to Wanda J’s. Then we see the freeway going though Greenwood. They feel some type of way,” Howard said. “We have some deep conversations over collard greens and cornbread [and onions].”
Tulsa Massacre survivors receive historic donation
“This is about a man who had a made up mind to give a million. No strings attached,” Oklahoma state Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) said during the press conference, as the community thanked Ed and Lisa Mitzen for the donation.
Mitzen, a White businessman from upstate New York, said he felt compelled to do something for the survivors after reading an article in the Washington Post from journalist Deneen Brown.
“I’d read an article that she had written and became frustrated and angry that the family and survivors had to go to court for permission to go to court,” Ed Mitzen said. He said he’d heard about the Massacre briefly a few years ago but didn’t really start researching it until coming across the article.
“We just feel so incredibly blessed where we can be in a position to help make peoples lives a little easier. I know there’s a lot of attention around building monuments and that’s wonderful but,” Mitzen added, “We want to help make people’s lives easier.
For her part, Washington Post journalist Deneen Brown attended the press conference virtually and expressed gratitude that her words inspired seven-figure action.
A Professor at the University of Maryland on top of being a reporter, Brown was born in Oklahoma. Her Grandmother was born in the all-Black town of Boley, and her great-grandmother lived in Tulsa. She started working on stories about the Tulsa Race Massacre in 2018 while visiting her father in Tulsa.
She said she always tells her students, “If you write with enough power, accuracy to pursue the truth, it is possible a good story can change the world. So I’m grateful that these stories have some impact.”
Mitzens puts their money where their mouths are.
Becoming emotional, Mitzen explained how defeated he felt after hearing about the white supremacist mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, mere hours away from his own community.
“Then I was reminded of these three amazing people who have never given up,” he said. “We hope this will inspire other people to step up.”
For the survivors, shock and disbelief filled their spirits when they learned about the donation a few weeks ago. Yet, Rep. Regina Goodwin clarified that the donation wasn’t reparations.
“We are very clear there’s a difference between generosity and justice. What you see here today is generosity. We don’t confuse the two issues,” Rep. Goodwin told reporters. “The 101-year fight is ongoing, but today this has nothing to do with reparations. This has to do with a man’s heart. Today we’ve experienced generosity.”
New York-based Donation is generosity not justice
Meanwhile, Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons made history when his public nuisance lawsuit seeking justice for the 101-year crime was ruled to proceed in Tulsa County Court on May 2nd. For the first time in 101 years, the City of Tulsa, County Boards, the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce, and other entities will stand trial for their role in the destruction of over 1,200 homes, hundreds of businesses and the killing of over 300 Black men, women and children.
While the elders are all over 100, Mother Fletcher’s grandson Ike Howard said “their minds are crystal clear, but the body can’t do what the mind wants to do. They still wanna go deep sea fishing. They still wanna go to Africa. Uncle Redd said I wanna live to 130. So we need all the help we can get.”
“God left us on this earth for a reason,” he added. “We have children that are in college. We want to give them that leg up. This gift is amazing. We are very very grateful and thankful for this gift.”
Turning to New York philanthropist Ed Mitzen, Howard added, “They also told me to tell you they are praying for you and your wife to live as long as they are.”