Tulsa Race Massacre: May 31 – June 1, 1921.

This subject is horrific to read about. I’ve never been able to do it justice. It’s like reading about the Sand Creek Massacre, or any of hundreds of other massacres of Native Americans by Euro-Americans.

So I’m just forwarding The Washington Post’s story. Here it is.

This is superb writing by DeNeen L. Brown, and it’s worth your time to soak up every word she writes. She’s a consummate writer, a professional journalist of the highest calibre.

The following article is from The Washington Post, May 19, 2021. I’ve formatted some of the paragraphs as pull-out quotes for those of you who can’t make time to read The Post’s story in its entirety. At least read the quotes carefully.


The massacre began on the evening of May 31, 1921, when a White mob descended on Greenwood, shooting Black people indiscriminately and burning more than 1,200 homes, hundreds of Black-owned businesses, churches, schools and a Black-owned hospital. Some survivors saw airplanes dropping turpentine bombs on houses….

….as many as 300 Black people dead, 10,000 homeless and the all-Black community of Greenwood destroyed.

….After more than 48 hours of carnage, 35 square blocks of Greenwood were destroyed. When the massacre ended on June 1, 1921, according to historians and witness accounts, hundreds of survivors were rounded up at gunpoint and forced to march to camps, where they were held for weeks until White people vouched for them. According to the Tulsa Race Riot Commission 2001 report, many were forced to labor without pay. Survivors also recounted seeing Black bodies dumped into the Arkansas River and into mass graves.

“The city police department and the county sheriff’s office deputized and armed white Tulsans to murder, loot, and burn the nearly 40 city blocks of the Greenwood District,” according to the reparations lawsuit. “The State National Guard participated with this angry white mob in killing and looting and destroying the property of Black residents of Greenwood. The city, sheriff, chamber, and county targeted Black community leaders and victims of the massacre for prosecution as instigators of the massacre — despite knowing who were truly responsible.”


One of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — 107 years old — wants justice

Viola Fletcher, who lived through the Tulsa Race Massacre a century ago, testified before Congress Wednesday on the push for reparations

Photo Source: The Washington Post.

By DeNeen L. Brown May 19, 2021 at 9:55 a.m. PDT

She’d just turned 7 when a White mob descended on her all-Black neighborhood in a murderous rage.

“I’m a survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre,” Viola Fletcher, 107, told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee Wednesday. “Two weeks ago, I celebrated my 107th birthday. Today, I’m visiting Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life. I’m here seeking justice and asking my country to acknowledge what happened in Tulsa in 1921.”

Fletcher, her 100-year-old brother, Hughes “Uncle Red” Vann Ellis, and a third survivor, 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle, appeared before the subcommittee to push for reparations for one of the worst episodes of racial violence in American history.

All three are lead plaintiffs in a reparations lawsuit filed last year against the City of Tulsa, the County of Tulsa, the State of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. The lawsuit argues Oklahoma and Tulsa are responsible for what happened during the massacre, which historians believe left as many as 300 Black people dead, 10,000 homeless and the all-Black community of Greenwood destroyed.

‘They was killing black people’: A century-old race massacre still haunts Tulsa

Dressed in a mint green blazer and speaking in a strong, clear voice, Fletcher told the story of what happened in Tulsa as the city prepares to mark the massacre’s 100th anniversary at the end of this month.Advertisement

“On May 31, of ‘21, I went to bed in my family’s home in Greenwood,” she said. “The neighborhood I fell asleep in that night was rich, not just in terms of wealth, but in culture…and heritage. My family had a beautiful home. We had great neighbors. I had friends to play with. I felt safe. I had everything a child could need. I had a bright future.”

“Within a few hours,” Fletcher said, “all of that was gone.”

“The night of the massacre, I was awakened by my family. My parents and five siblings were there. I was told we had to leave and that was it. I will never forget the violence of the White mob when we left our home,” she said, “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 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 I cannot. I will not. And other survivors do not. And our descendants do not.”

Lawmakers and others rose to give her a standing ovation when she finished testifying.

Viola Fletcher, seated, is applauded by Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), left, and Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX), after testifying on Wednesday about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Her brother, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, broke into tears as he told the subcommittee how he fought for the United States overseas but had not received justice in his own country.

“Please do not let me leave this earth without justice, like all the other massacre survivors,” Ellis said.

Randle, 106, testified virtually from Tulsa, recalling how safe and loved she felt as a 6-year-old living with her grandmother in Greenwood. “Then everything changed. White men with guns came and destroyed my community. We couldn’t understand why. What did we do to them?”

The White mob killed Black Tulsans and burned Black-owned homes and businesses. “We were told they just dumped dead bodies into the river,” Randle said. “I remember being outside of our house. I passed dead bodies.”

“I still see it, in my mind, 100 years later…I have survived to tell this story,” she told the lawmakers. “I believe I am still here to share it with you. Hopefully, you all will listen to us while we are still here.”

The massacre began on the evening of May 31, 1921, when a White mob descended on Greenwood, shooting Black people indiscriminately and burning more than 1,200 homes, hundreds of Black-owned businesses, churches, schools and a Black-owned hospital. Some survivors saw airplanes dropping turpentine bombs on houses.

Greenwood in Ruins in June 1921 following the Tulsa Race Massacre. (Library of Congress; The Crowley Company)

After more than 48 hours of carnage, 35 square blocks of Greenwood were destroyed. When the massacre ended on June 1, 1921, according to historians and witness accounts, hundreds of survivors were rounded up at gunpoint and forced to march to camps, where they were held for weeks until White people vouched for them. According to the Tulsa Race Riot Commission 2001 report, many were forced to labor without pay. Survivors also recounted seeing Black bodies dumped into the Arkansas River and into mass graves.

“The city police department and the county sheriff’s office deputized and armed white Tulsans to murder, loot, and burn the nearly 40 city blocks of the Greenwood District,” according to the reparations lawsuit. “The State National Guard participated with this angry white mob in killing and looting and destroying the property of Black residents of Greenwood. The city, sheriff, chamber, and county targeted Black community leaders and victims of the massacre for prosecution as instigators of the massacre — despite knowing who were truly responsible.”

Black detainees are led to the Convention Hall following the massacre in Tulsa on June 1, 1921. The National Guard rounded up Black survivors by the thousands and took them to the fairgrounds, the Convention Hall and a baseball stadium. (Tulsa Historical Society/AP)

Tulsa Race Massacre survivors file lawsuit, demanding ‘repair’ for 1921 attack

In 2019, Tulsa began searching for mass graves that may be connected to the massacre. In October 2020, the city found a mass grave in the city-owned Oaklawn Cemetery. The city plans to continue excavating the site on June 1.

Viola Fletcher was born May 5, 1914, in Comanche, a small town on the rolling prairie of Southwest Oklahoma, about 190 miles from Tulsa. She had four brothers and three sisters. Fletcher was the second oldest of the children.

Before moving the family to Tulsa, her parents were sharecroppers. “They raised cotton, corn, vegetables,” she recalled during a 2014 interview with the Oklahoma Oral History Research program and the Oklahoma State University College of Human Sciences.

Their house had no electricity. “My first doll was a rag doll,” she recalled. “Then, your parents made your doll out of material.”

Her family fled Tulsa during the massacre but eventually returned. In 1932, she married her husband, Robert, and the couple moved to California to work in the shipyards during World War II.

“I was an assistant welder,” she said. “I helped welders lay the slab of steel to build the ship.”

Viola Fletcher, then 104, right, was honored at a Martin Luther King breakfast fundraiser in Bartlesville, Okla. Her granddaughter Mona Crumpton and her grandson Byron Bell, Jr., 9, attended with her. Fletcher shows her identification card used during World War II when she worked as a welder at a shipyard in California. (Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise) (Bartlesville /Examiner-Enterprise)

After the war, she and her husband returned to Oklahoma, where they raised their three children — two boys and one girl — in Bartlesville, a small town near the Kansas border. Fletcher worked cleaning houses, while her husband worked as a truck driver and at a filling station.Advertisement

Fletcher said she worked until she was 85. “I got tired,” she recalled. “I didn’t have to come and clean houses anymore. I owned my own home and bought my own cars.”

She said she never let racism stop her. “No, it never bothered me at all,” Fletcher said. “I’m Black and I’m proud. … We are just as important as everybody else. … We have the same red blood as other people, the same faith and the same life.”

He’s 100, a renowned jazz musician and a survivor of Tulsa’s 1921 race massacre

For nearly 100 years, said Dreisen Heath, a researcher and racial justice advocate at Human Rights Watch, “the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma watched survivors die one by one while denying their culpability and resisting paying reparations recommended by the state legislature.”

Heath said it’s important that the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hear from and acknowledge the last survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre while they are still living.

“It brings tears to my eyes to think about the thousands of people who have died waiting for justice,” said Heath, who wrote the Human Rights report “Reparations for Tulsa.”

Fletcher, she said, is a legend at 107 years old. “She has many stories to tell,” Heath said, “and also a story of denied justice.”

Read more Retropolis:

A century-old race massacre still haunts Tulsa as ‘Black Wall Street’ gentrifies

She sued her enslaver for reparations and won. Her descendants never knew.

At 88, he is a historical rarity — the living son of an enslaved person

Two families — one Black, one White — shared a harrowing history rooted in slavery. Then they met.276 Comments

Image without a caption

By DeNeen L. Brown DeNeen L. Brown, who has been an award-winning staff writer in The Washington Post Metro, Magazine and Style sections, has also worked as the Canada bureau chief for The Washington Post. As a foreign correspondent, she wrote dispatches from Greenland, Haiti, Nunavut and an icebreaker in the Northwest Passage.


From The Tumalo Lookout:

Look again at that last photo in the story: Viola Fletcher with her young granddaughter and grandson.

That’s how the effects of slavery have been passed down through every single generation of Black America.

There has never been a single generation of Black America that hasn’t suffered the effects of slavery and continuing racism in this country — personal and institutional.

This is equally true for Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and many other minorities in this culture.

And it’s most especially true for Native Americans: unlike the failed effort of White racists to eliminate Blacks from America, the Euro-American genocide against Native Americans has been thoroughly successful. We rarely even see coverage of Native America in the mainstream press.

America’s history is filled with incidents like the Tulsa Race massacre.

Whites just don’t want to know about it all.

Republicans pass laws to forbid teaching about it.

And American cops keep repeating it, one victim at at time.


If you want to know more about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, I encourage you to read another outstanding piece of journalism by DeNeen L. Brown of The Washington Post. Here’s the link: In Tulsa, a century-old race massacre still haunts Black Wall Street – The Washington Post.

In fact, I encourage you to follow Retropolis, one of WAPO’s best projects that uncovers the historical roots of America’s institutional racism.

WAPO’s Retropolis, along with The 1619 Project of The New York Times, are two of the most important reasons I subscribe to these newspapers.

If only more Americans could read.

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