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‘I’m seeking justice’: Tulsa massacre survivor, 107, testifies in US Congress
Viola Fletcher is the oldest survivor of the racist attack on the city’s “ Black Wall Street ” in 1921 that left as many as 300 dead on Hill in Washington DC. Photograph: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images For nearly a century, a culture of silence denied him a voice. Finally, at the age of 107, Viola Fletcher secured a national stage on Wednesday to bear witness to America’s deep history of racial violence. Fletcher is the oldest living survivor of a massacre that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when a white mob attacked the city’s “Black Wall Street”, killing an estimated 300 Afro- Americans by robbing and burning more than 1,200 businesses, homes and churches. For decades, the atrocity has been actively covered up and desired. But Fletcher and his 100-year-old brother are asking for reparations and, ahead of the massacre’s centenary, appeared before a House judicial subcommittee considering remedies. Congressman Steve Cohen, chairman of the panel, acknowledged the coronavirus restrictions and said, âThose in the room, I would like to ask you to keep your face mask on at all times, unless you speak – or unless you’re over a hundred years old. Fletcher, born before World War I, said she was visiting Washington for the first time in her life. She had left the house at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and arrived at her hotel after midnight. Dressed in an aquamarine jacket, floral blouse, glasses and headphones, she regularly read a prepared statement. âI’m looking for justice here,â Fletcher said. “I am asking my country here to recognize what happened in Tulsa in 1921.” She recalled how the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa was once a thriving and affluent African American community where she could have lived out her own American dream. But that bright future was suddenly swept away. âThe night of the massacre, I was awakened by my family. My parents and my five siblings were there. I was told we had to leave and that was it. âI will never forget the violence of the white crowd when we left our house. I still see black men being shot, black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see black businesses burnt down. I still hear planes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I experienced the massacre every day. The audience was told that there had never been any direct compensation from the city or state for the survivors of the massacre or their descendants, and that the racial disparities, compounded by gentrification and l urbanism persist today in Tulsa – a microcosm of America. Hughes Van Ellis, left, Tulsa Race Massacre survivor and World War II veteran, and his sister Viola Fletcher testify in Congress. Photograph: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images Fletcher continued, âOur country can forget this story, but I can’t. I won’t and the other survivors won’t and our descendants won’t. When my family was forced to leave Tulsa, I lost my chance to study. I never finished school after the fourth grade. I never made a lot of money. âMy country, my state and my city took a lot from me. Despite this, I spent time supporting the war effort in the California shipyards. But most of my life I have been a domestic worker serving white families. I never made a lot of money. To this day, I can barely meet my daily needs. She also accused local authorities of taking advantage of her story. âAll the while, the city of Tulsa has unfairly used the names and stories of victims like me to enrich themselves and their white allies with the $ 30 million raised by the Tulsa Centennial Commission as I continue to live in poverty. Fletcher demanded that the country recognize his experience and give survivors a chance to seek justice. âI believe we need to recognize America’s sins,â she said. “It’s the least we can do.” At the end of his testimony, the committee members rose to give him a standing ovation. His brother, Hughes Van Ellis, a World War II veteran, then testified. He said, âYou may have been taught that when something is stolen from you, you can go to court to be healed. You can go to court for justice. This was not the case for us. Oklahoma courts haven’t heard from us. The federal courts have said we are too late. âWe were made to feel that our struggles were not worthy of justice. That we were less valued than whites, that we were not entirely American. We have been shown that in the United States not all men are equal before the law. We have been shown that when black voices cry out for justice, no one cares. A third survivor, Lessie Evelyn Benningfield Randle, 106, also testified virtually. She said: ‘It means a lot to me to finally be able to look you all in the eye and ask you to do the right thing. waited so long for justice.