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One of three known living survivors of one of the nation’s most horrific instances of racial domestic terrorism celebrated her 108th birthday on Thursday, Nov. 10.
“Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle continues to wait for justice as she blows out another year’s worth of birthday candles. Along with “Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher (108), and her younger brother “Uncle” Hughes Van Ellis (101), Mother Randle survived the Tulsa Race Massacre in1921, when a city-sanctioned white mob stormed through the Greenwood District, home to Black Wall Street.
“People in positions of power, many just like you, have told us to wait,” Mother Randle told Congress last year. “Others have told us it’s too late. It seems that justice in America is always so slow, or not possible for Black people. And we are made to feel crazy just for asking for things to be made right.”
Infuriated that a small clutch of Black military veterans prevented the mob from lynching 19-year-old Dicky Rowland, thousands of white Tulsans burned, bombed and shot to death upwards of 300 Black men, women and children as they destroyed 36 square blocks of the community.
Community wishes survivor Mother Lessie Benningfield a happy 108th birthday
As the three living survivors intensely wait for their lawsuit to reach the trial phase in Tulsa County, their loved ones came together on Thursday to wish happy birthday to a living legend. Uncle Hughes Van Ellis will turn 102 on January 11, 2023 and Mother Fletcher will turn 109 on May 10, 2023.
Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, a descendant of survivors and executive director of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, posted on Facebook, asking the community to wish Mother Randle a happy birthday.
Kristy Williams, a descendant who sits on Tulsa’s African American Affairs Commission and the oversight committee for Tulsa’s 1921 mass graves investigation, also took to Facebook on Thursday.
“Here’s to 108 times around the sun! Mother Randle, enjoy your special day! 108 years old!!! I can only pray to be so blessed! Happy Birthday Beautiful,” Williams posted.
Mother Randle’s birthday comes as the city of Tulsa and other entities continue to defend themselves from an ongoing lawsuit seeking justice for the 101-year-old crime.
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons of the Justice For Greenwood Foundation represents the three survivors in a public nuisance lawsuit that uses an Oklahoma law to argue for restitution.
City fights Tulsa Massacre lawsuit
Most recently, defendants filed a third motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Attorney Solomon-Simmons has until Nov. 18 to respond to the motion, according to an Oct. 18 ruling by Judge Caroline Wall at the Tulsa County Courthouse.
“The City of Tulsa and the institutions that perpetrated the massacre are patiently waiting until the three last known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre pass away,” the Justice For Greenwood Foundation stated in a Nov. 8 email to supporters.
In addition to the lawsuit, the city has faced criticism last summer for its handling of the investigation into mass graves from the 1921 massacre. Descendants of survivors and members of the oversight committee accused the city of a cover-up after it quickly reburied19 bodies that were exhumed from Oaklawn Cemetery. The rush to rebury occurred soon after researchers discovered one body contained a gun shot wound.
In recent weeks, the excavations have resumed, with 21 new coffins being found.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, Tulsa’s Circle Cinema will premiere a documentary titled “Oaklawn,” which contains interviews from descendants and members of the oversight committee.
The documentary film will premiere at Circle Cinema on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. and play every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. through the end of the year. To register click here.
To wish Mother Randle a happy birthday, click here.