Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors Testify In Reparations Pursuit Viola Fletcher, along with two other survivors of the siege of a Black neighborhood by a white mob, testify before a House subcommittee on Wednesday, almost exactly 100 years after the riot.

Survivors Of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Share Eyewitness Accounts

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100 years ago, a white mob descended on a prosperous Black business district in Tulsa, Okla. That mob killed hundreds in one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. Well, today, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers heard from living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: When the mobs came to Greenwood, Viola Fletcher was just 7 years old.


VIOLA FLETCHER: I still smell smoke and see fire. 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. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.

SUMMERS: Fletcher was one of three survivors of that violence to testify before a House panel. Historians say that the massacre left as many as 300 Black people dead and more than 10,000 homeless. Once known as Black Wall Street, Greenwood was destroyed. Lessie Benningfield Randall described what it was like to live in Greenwood as a child. Testifying by video conference, she said it was a place where she had no fear.


LESSIE BENNINGFIELD RANDALL: Then everything changed. It was like a war. White men with guns came and destroyed my community. We couldn't understand why.

SUMMERS: Now, as Tulsa prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the massacre, survivors like Fletcher want reparations.


FLETCHER: I am 107 years old and have never been - seen justice. I pray that one day will. I have been blessed with a long life and have seen the best and the worst of this country. I think about the terror - horror - inflicted upon Black people in this country every day.

SUMMERS: Fletcher's younger brother, Hughes Van Ellis, testified, too. The World War II veteran wore a U.S. Army ball cap, and he described the multiple unsuccessful attempts by survivors and their relatives to seek justice through the courts.


HUGHES VAN ELLIS: We were shown that in the United States, not all men were equal under the law. We were shown that when Black voices called out for justice, no one cared.

SUMMERS: Ellis (ph), who's 100, called for the last survivors of the Tulsa race Massacre to be acknowledged while they're still living.


VAN ELLIS: Please do not let me leave this earth without justice, like all the others - massacre survivors. Thank you so much.

SUMMERS: Each survivor's testimony was met with a standing ovation.


SUMMERS: When Ellis finished, he was asked if there was anything else he would like to say. He thanked the committee for listening to him and said he hoped they would be able to work together. Then, he lifted one finger in the air and said...


VAN ELLIS: We are one. We are one.

SUMMERS: Lessie Benningfield Randall says she has survived 100 years of painful memories and a fight for justice that is long overdue.

RANDALL: I am here today, 106 years old, looking at you all in the eye. We have waited 100 years - no, we have waited too long. And I am tired. We are tired.

SUMMERS: Juana Summers, NPR News.


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