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GREENWOOD Dist.–Hughes Van Ellis, the youngest of three last known living 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre survivors, passed away at 102 years old on Monday.
Rep. Regina Goodwin, an Oklahoma legislator representing the Greenwood District, announced the somber news.
“A loving family man, he was known as ‘Uncle Redd’,” Rep. Goodwin said in a statement on behalf of the family. “He was among the three last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the most horrific acts of racist terrorism on American soil.”
A World War II veteran, Van Ellis lived through terror as a baby between May 31st and June 1st, when a White mob, deputized by Tulsa police, rampaged through the Greenwood District, killing upwards of 300 Black men, women and children.
Van Ellis, who passed away in Denver, Colorado, lived a life that saw traumatic racial violence in 1921 and the first Black U.S. president in 2008. Born on January 11, 1921, Van Ellis survived physical violence and policy violence in the form of redlining, Jim Crow and “urban removal.”
During the 100-year centennial in 2021, Hughes Van Ellis was honored by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18). Gen. Mike Thompson, former head of the Oklahoma National Guard, also made a formal apology to Van Ellis for the state’s failure to protect Black residents in 1921.
Tulsa Race Massacre survivor preached justice and grace
Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall agreed last year to move the reparations lawsuit forward for he and fellow survivors “Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, and “Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle, who will turn 109 on November 10. Fletcher is also Van Ellis’ older sister.
Yet, Judge Wall dismissed the historic public nuisance lawsuit in July. The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal a month later.
During an interim study at the state Capitol on Thursday, October 5th, lawmakers studied and heard testimony regarding updates to reparations proposals made decades earlier. Notably, Hughes Van Ellis was the only survivor not in attendance. He released a statement that Rep. Goodwin read during the hearing.
“We aren’t just black and white pictures on a screen. We are flesh and blood. I was there when it happened. I’m still here,” Tulsa Massacre survivor Van Ellis stated. “My sister was there when it happened, and she’s still here. I still believe in America. We are one. We are one.”
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Tulsa Mayor Bynum for a response.
“On behalf of the city of Tulsa, I want to share our condolences to the Hughes Van Ellis family. A survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Hughes Van Ellis endured the worst event in Tulsa history and has since shared his story with people around the world. The prayers of our city are with him and his family,” Mayor Bynum said in a statement.
Back in July, Mayor Bynum told the Tulsa World he “appreciated” Judge Wall dismissing the historic lawsuit in Tulsa County.
Notably, many supporters of reparations for the survivors have feared the city, county and state is waiting out the survivors, hoping they’ll die before justice can be served.
For Hughes Van Ellis, those fears have materialized. His body may be at rest. However, his enduring spirit and unyielding hope for peace and justice continues to reverberate outward into the community.
Read Rep. Goodwin’s full statement on behalf of the family below:
“Mr. Hughes Van Ellis, 102, passed Mon. Oct. 9th at 11:30 am in Denver, Colorado. A loving family man, he was known as “Uncle Redd”. He was among the three last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the most horrific acts of racist terrorism on American soil.
A WWIl , war veteran, Mr. Ellis, bravely served America, even as he spent a lifetime awaiting atonement related to the Tulsa Race Massacre. Mr. Ellis was aware survivors, his sister Mrs. Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, Mrs. Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and family descendants were recently at our state capitol interim study focused on 2001 state commissioned reparation recommendations.
Two days ago, Mr. Ellis, urged us to keep fighting for justice. In the midst of his death, there remains an undying sense of right and wrong. Mr. Ellis was assured we would remain steadfast and we repeated to him, his own words, “ We Are One” and we lastly expressed our love.
The scripture of Jeremiah 6 reads, ‘This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’
We celebrate the rare life of Mr. Hughes Van Ellis who inspires us still!”
The Black Wall Street Times is grateful to Mr. Hughes Van Ellis for his years of service, honor, dedication to justice, and love for his fellow human being. We urge the city of Tulsa, Tulsa County and the state of Oklahoma to honor the wishes of Mr. Van Ellis by providing reparations and restitution to the last known living survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.