They’re bearing witness!
100 years later, the oldest living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre testified before Congress to seek justice, Essence reports.
This year marks 100 years since the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre, the day a white mob of 5-10,000 attacked the segregated, Black, and prosperous Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The once vibrant area known as “Black Wall Street” was decimated. The mob looting and burning 1,256 homes and destroyed 40 square blocks of businesses, hospitals, schools, and churches, leaving 9,000 Greenwood residents homeless. There has never been a clear account of just how many were killed, but estimates range in the hundreds. In 2018, the city of Tulsa began attempting to locate mass graves, hoping to exhume the bodies for identification and reburial. Now 100 years later, some of the oldest survivors – ages 100, 106, and 107, have testified before Congress seeking justice.
“I’m here asking my country to acknowledge what happened in Tulsa in 1921,” Viola Fletcher said.
The 107-year-old Tulsa native is the oldest living survivor and traveled to the nation’s capital to be present for this moment. “Continuing Injustice: The Centennial of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre” hearing was an organized effort by The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. The committee is focused on examining the 1921 Massacre and identifying potential resolutions for survivors and their descendants.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, House Judiciary Committee Chairman, spoke about the significance of the hearing in his opening statement.
“I have said so before, and I will say it again – the Tulsa-Greenwood Massacre can fairly be described as an act of ethnic cleansing, which was subsequently wiped from the history books for many decades despite having made national news at the time,” Nadler.
Lessie Benningfield Randle, also known as “Mother Randle,” the 106-year-old survivor, also testified via Zoom about her experience.
“It was a beautiful Black community. I felt very safe,” Randle said. “White men with guns…destroyed…[the community]. We didn’t understand. Why? What did we do to them?”
100-year-old Hughes Van Ellis, another centenarian, WWII veteran, and survivor, also testified, saying, “I still believe in America. I hope we will all work together. We are one.”
The hearing was emotional, and committee members applauded the survivors and descendants of survivors who also testified, including Regina Goodwin, an Oklahoma State Representative, and Chief Egunwale Amusan, President of the Tulsa African Ancestral Society. The goal is to record the testimony for historical accuracy and discuss the lasting impact of what happened in Tulsa 100 years ago.
“In addition to commemorating the Massacre’s victims, this hearing is also another opportunity to consider the Massacre’s long-lasting repercussions for the survivors, their descendants, and Tulsa’s greater black community, and what role Congress can play in remedying this historic injustice,” Nadler said.
This is not the first time the matter has been brought before Congress. In 2001, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Race Massacre of 1921 assembled to garner accurate statistics on the death toll, burial sites, and role of the state, local, and government authorities. At the time, the Commission found that “reparations to the historic Greenwood community in real and tangible form would be good public policy and do much to repair the emotional and physical scars of this terrible incident in our shared past,” Nadler shared.
In 2004, a Tenth Circuit court upheld a lower court’s decision not to address the claims of Greenwood survivors claiming the statute of limitations. In 2007, a Judiciary subcommittee spearheaded by the late Congressman John Conyers held a hearing on legislation to create a new federal cause action to allow survivors’ claims to be heard. Nadler suggested during the hearing that these claims finally be given their just due and Congress enact legislation to remedy the issue and strongly consider reparations, giving special consideration to the racial and economic disparities that exist in Tulsa today as a result of the Massacre.
“Survivors and their descendants have tried to seek legal redress from the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma for Massacre-related harms. Unfortunately, these claims have never been decided on the merits…Similar legislation [as proposed by Rep. Conyers] that helps address relevant statutes of limitation issues that have bedeviled these claims in the past certainly remains one potential avenue for survivors and their descendants to obtain compensation,” Nadler said.
May these survivors and their descendants receive their just due.
Photo Courtesy of Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images