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1921 Tulsa race massacre survivors and advocates testify on Capitol Hill

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Posted at 1:54 PM, May 21, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and several advocates testified Wednesday before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers heard about the race massacre directly from three centenarians who witnessed it. Survivors shared very emotional testimonies and asked for reparations, respect, and restitution.

“I’m here seeking justice for what happened in 1921,” said Viola Fletcher, the oldest survivor of the massacre. “Today, we have two witness panels. On the first panel, will be a very special group of witnesses, the three known remaining survivors of the Tulsa Greenwood race massacre.”

Fletcher was 7 years old at the time of the tragedy. Nearly 100 years later, she still remembers the atrocities of that day.

“I still see Black men being shot. I still see Black bodies lining the street," Fletcher said. "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."

The second witness was her brother and World War II Veteran, Hughes Van Ellis. He called on Congress to pay for the long-lasting harm the massacre caused.

“We aren’t just black and white pictures on a screen, we are Fletcher and Hugh, I was there when it happened, I’m still here and my sister was there when this happened and she’s still here. We are not asking for a handout, all we are asking for is for a chance to be treated like a first-class citizen...who lives here with the promise that there is liberty and justice for all.”

The third survivor was Lessie Benningfield Randle.

“I survived the 1921 race massacre, and I have survived 100 years," Randle said. "By the grace of God, I am still here. I have survived. I have survived to tell this story."

The second panel included advocates for the survivors also asking lawmakers for compensation for these survivors and their descendants.

Last month, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would form a commission to study reparations for black people impacted by the massacre.

All three survivors have filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Tulsa seeking reparations for the event.

The law firm that filed the suit on behalf of the survivors prepared a response to motions to dismiss the case. They plan to hold a news conference to update the case on June 1.

This story was originally published by Jeanette Quezada at KJRH.