US Tulsa massacre survivor at 107 years old testifies that the horror of that day never goes away
How Black Wall Street built its legacy
One hundred years ago, one of America's greatest success stories came to a crushing end. © Sue Ogrocki/AP In this Monday, June 15, 2020, file photo, a sign marks the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street, the former home of Black Wall Street, in Tulsa, Okla. At the turn of the 20th century, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was more than 35 city blocks of thriving shops, hotels, theaters and more. And all of them were Black-owned. The district was founded by Black men and women -- many of whom were descendants of slaves -- and it became known as Black Wall Street.
Viola Fletcher was seven years old when she witnessed one of worst acts of racial violence the US has ever seen.
An angry mob rampaged through Tulsa's Greenwood District in Oklahoma, killing hundreds of Black people and leaving her thriving neighborhood in ashes in 1921.
The 107-year-old testified before members of a House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday, calling for justice and for the country to officially acknowledge the massacre ahead of the 100th anniversary on May 31.
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"I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire," Fletcher testified. "I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the Massacre every day."
The Tulsa race riot of 1921, also called the Tulsa race massacre, resulted in the decimation of the city's Greenwood district -- then a Black economic hub also known as Black Wall Street -- when a mob of White rioters looted and burned the community. Contemporary reports of deaths began at 36, but historians now believe as many as 300 people died,. Historical photos also show bodies of Black residents lying in the streets.
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Century after Greenwood's destruction, my brother's death and family experience is living testimony that city's racial wounds still festering.But my great-grandmother was keeping a painful secret: The Greenwood that she knew didn’t simply fade away. It was massacred. And that revelation sent me reeling. After all, the destruction of Black Wall Street wasn’t a lesson I had learned growing up in Tulsa’s public schools. It was never mentioned. Not in a textbook or a history class or anywhere else.
"I am 107 years old and have never seen justice. I pray that one day I will. I have been blessed with a long life -- and have seen the best and worst of this country. I think about the terror inflicted upon Black people in this country every day," Fletcher said.
Fletcher was one of the three survivors of the massacre who shared their stories on Wednesday with lawmakers. Her younger brother Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle also appeared before the subcommittee. Both noted the community wasn't able to rebuild and said survivors can still see the impact of the massacre.
"We were left with nothing. We were made refugees in our own country," said Van Ellis, 100.
Randle, who testified virtually, recalled how she felt safe and happy as a 6-year-old living in Tulsa before "everything changed."
"They burned houses and businesses. They just took what they wanted out of the buildings then they burned them. They murdered people. We were told they just dumped the dead bodies into the river," the 106-year-old woman said.
Unearthing history: Tulsa massacre victims search resumes
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As the U.S. marks 100 years since one of its most shameful historical chapters, researchers, including descendants of Black victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre, are preparing to resume a search for remains believed to have been hastily buried in mass graves. Although many details about the two terrifying days in 1921 eventually came to light after decades of shared silence by perpetrators, victims and their progeny, some basic facts remain unknown, including the true death toll and the names of many members of the city's once thriving Black community who died at the hands of a white mob.
"I remember running outside of our house. I ran past dead bodies. It wasn't a pretty sight. I still see it today in my mind -- 100 years later," she added.
The three survivors are the lead figures inthat demands reparations for damage it says has continued since the destruction of the city's Greenwood District, nearly a 100 years ago.
The plaintiffs also include Vernon A.M.E Church -- the only black-owned building to survive the massacre -- descendants of other victims and the Tulsa African Ancestral Society.
The lawsuit claims that the racial and economic disparities caused by the massacre created a public nuisance and an economic blight that remains. It says local government and agencies failed to help the neighborhood rebuild.
"They owe us something. They owe me something. I have lived much of my life poor. My opportunities were taken from me and my community. North Tulsa, Black Tulsa, is still messed up today. They didn't rebuild it. Its empty. It's a ghetto," Randle said.
Greenwood residents suffered $50 million to $100 million in property damage from the massacre and say that policies implemented in the following decades led to the decline of Greenwood and North Tulsa and increased inequality, according to the lawsuit.
At century mark, Tulsa Race Massacre's wounds still unhealed
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Black Wall Street Market is nowhere near Black Wall Street. The original Black Wall Street vaporized a hundred years ago, when a murderous white mob laid waste to what was the nation’s most prosperous Black-owned business district and residential neighborhood. When Billie Parker set out to memorialize the name with her new development, she built it far from Tulsa's historic Greenwood neighborhood. She followed the trailThe original Black Wall Street vaporized a hundred years ago, when a murderous white mob laid waste to what was the nation’s most prosperous Black-owned business district and residential neighborhood.
"We're not asking for a handout. All we are asking for is for 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," Van Ellis said. "We are asking for justice for a lifetime of ongoing harm. Harm that was caused by the massacre."
Tulsa Race Massacre long buried chapter of US history .
When the smoke cleared in June 1921, the toll from the massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was catastrophic — scores of lives lost, homes and businesses burned to the ground, a thriving Black community gutted by a white mob. The nightmare cried out for attention, as something to be investigated and memorialized, with speeches and statues and anniversary commemorations. But the horror and violence visited upon Tulsa’s Black community didn't become partThe nightmare cried out for attention, as something to be investigated and memorialized, with speeches and statues and anniversary commemorations.