Viola Fletcher can still hear the screams. In a powerful testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday, the oldest living survivor of 1921's Tulsa Race Massacre shared her story.
"I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. ... I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre everyday. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot," said Fletcher. She was joined at the hearing by her brother and fellow survivor Hughes Van Ellis. Lessie Benningfield Randle, another survivor, appeared virtually.
The 107-year-old traveled to Washington, D.C — for the first time ever — to testify regarding a lawsuit filed last year against the city, county and chamber of commerce of Tulsa, as well as the state of Oklahoma, reports The Washington Post. Fletcher, Van Ellis and Randle are the three lead plaintiffs in the case, which argues Oklahoma and Tulsa "failed to defend the Black community from a White mob," per the Post, and owe survivors and their descendants reparations. Previous attempts at such redress have been unsuccessful.
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Said Van Ellis, a World War II veteran: "Please, do not let me leave this Earth without justice, like all the other massacre survivors," reports NPR.
Because of the massacre, Fletcher's family was forced to leave Greenwood, robbing her of an education. Fletcher later volunteered in war efforts, but spent most of her life as "a domestic worker serving White families." To this day, she can "barely afford" her "everyday needs."
The Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed 40 square blocks of Greenwood, Oklahoma — "a community once so prosperous it was called Black Wall Street" — and is believed to have left "as many as 300 Black people dead" and "10,000 without homes," reports the Post.
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