He fought until the very end.
Hughes Van Ellis, one of the last three known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, has joined the ancestors, Black Enterprise reports. In two days, white mobs burned down what was once the prosperous, Black segregated Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The arson destroyed 40 square blocks and left more than 9,000 homeless. The reverberating effects have lasted a lifetime, with Van Ellis and his older sister Viola Fletcher fighting their whole lives in pursuit of justice.
“We lost so much. I believe if all this hadn’t happened when I was a child they would’ve been better in life,” Van Ellis previously told reporters.
He went on to join the U.S. Army, where he served during WWII. There he also experienced racism, noting the segregated drinking fountains and restrooms despite both white and Black soldiers equally putting their lives on the line.
“It makes you feel bad. It just makes you feel so bad, you know? But you are in the service so you have to do your duty. So, you have to live with it,” Van Ellis once recalled.
Despite the horrors he faced in this life, Van Ellis still kept his hope alive. He still believed in the founding ideals of America, enjoying life alongside his sister and family and even traveling to Ghana to fulfill their lifelong dream of returning to the continent of Africa. In a Ghanaian ceremony, Van Ellis was given the title of chief and named Nii Lante. He also had the chance to meet with President Nana Akufo-Addo. The trip was a healing balm for the siblings.
Van Ellis also fought for reparations, testifying before Congress about the impact of the Tulsa Race Massacre and why they should receive some sort of compensatory justice to remedy the emotional, physical, and financial harm they experienced.
“The Tulsa Race Massacre isn’t a footnote in a history book for us. We live with it everyday and the thought of what Greenwood was and what it could have been. 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. My sister was there when it happened, she’s still here,” said Van Ellis.
“We’re not asking for a handout. All we are asking for is a chance to be treated like a first-class citizen who truly is a beneficiary of the promise that this is a land where there is ‘liberty and justice for all.’ We are asking for justice for a lifetime of ongoing harm. Harm that was caused by the Massacre,” he added.
Van Ellis passed away on October 9 at the age of 102 years old. While he didn’t live to see the reparations he so rightfully deserved, he leaves behind his sister, 109 year old Viola Fletcher, and a host of descendants, who will ensure his legacy lives on and will continue their fight for reparations for everyone impacted by the tragedy in Greenwood.
May he rest in peace.
Photo by KJRH