One hundred years after the Tulsa race massacre, the Oklahoma government has not implemented a reparation deal enacted since 2001. Nevertheless, Our Black Truth and Diaspora Africa Forum want to give the survivors a new memory by paying for Viola Fletcher (Mother Fletcher) and Hughs Van Ellis’s visit to Africa. The plan for the trip came as a result of Fletcher’s aspiration to visit Africa.
Our Black Truth co-founders, Michael and Eric Thompson observed this longing during their conversations on Tulsa Massacre with Mother Fletcher. Mother Viola Fletcher celebrated her 107th while her younger brother Hughs Van Ellis joined the centenarian group this year. But what is so historic about Tulsa Massacre and why should it be discussed?
Tulsa Mass Massacre
A report has it that 19-year-old shoe shiner, Dick Rowland, was working in a white-owned establishment. Sadly, due to Jim Crow laws, he had to use a ‘colored’ bathroom on the top floor of the Drexel Building which was nearby. It is unclear how things degenerated. However, the established fact was that after Rowland entered an elevator, Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator screamed.
A white clerk reported the incident as an attempted assault. Rowland fled in panic but was arrested the next day. A headline on Tulsa Tribune on May 31 read “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator”. This angered a white mob that matched to the courthouse jail where Rowland was held.
The sheriff on duty refused to hand Rowland over to them. To protect Rowland, he ordered the barricade of the top floor. A group of black men stormed the courthouse in solidarity. A fight broke out and shots were fired. Eventually, ten white people and two black people died. In the coming hours, Greenwood was under siege with the destruction of life and property.
Effects of the Tulsa Massacre
In retaliation, whites went to the most popular place in Tulsa called Black Wall Street district and killed about 300 and destroyed properties worth around $50 to $100 million equivalent in 2020 currency in just two days. That inhuman treatment left many homeless and stranded. Fletcher said,
” I was a young child who had everything and in a matter of hours, I had nothing.”
In another interview, Fletcher acknowledged that she had to cut short her primary education due to the massacre. Racism has a harsh way of reminding people that they are not wanted in a place. At a congress hearing, Fletcher explains how she lives with the trauma of the massacre all her life.
“I still see Black men being shot and Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. Also, I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead and hear the screams. However, I live through the massacre every day.”
Proposed Government Reparation for Tulsa Massacre
Ninety-seven years after Tulsa Mass Massacre, the Oklahoma government planned to pay damages for the injury done to the black community. A Human Rights Watch 2020 report said,
“Following the massacre, government and city officials, as well as prominent business leaders, not only failed to invest and rebuild the once thriving Greenwood community, but actively blocked efforts to do so.”
An investigation into the massacre was done. Here are some of the resolutions from the investigation;
- Direct payment to the victims and descendants of the massacre
- Scholarships fund to benefit students affected
- Creation of an economic enterprise zone in the historic Greenwood district
- Creation of a memorial for the massacre victims and for the burial of any human remains found in the search for unmarked graves of massacre victims
No victims or descendants of the victims have been paid directly. Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) was the only structure that survived the carnage in Black Wall Street district. The church is now a symbol of Black resilience. Rev. Robert Turner Vernon who has been a pastor A,M.E. since 2017 believes reparation is something the victims deserve. A quote credited to him on The Bay State Banner read,
“We [A.M.E] have been called the ‘grandmother of Greenwood’ as the oldest, continuous landowner in the city, black or white. We provide a place for spiritual health and racial healing while representing what remains of Black Wall Street. [Reparations] is really something our people deserve; for justice, reclamation and recompense. We will continue to go after the City of Tulsa, which, over the years, has been complicit at best, a co-conspirator at worst.”
Memorable Visit to Ghana
Our Black Truth made true of their promise to the Tulsa race massacre survivors. The organization gave the three known a chance to visit Ghana, from August 14th to 21st.
Arrivals and Welcoming ceremony on 14th August 2021
Ambassador Erieka Bennett, members of the Ghanaian government and other citizens came out to welcome Fletcher and Hughs Van Ellis and their families at Kotoka International Airport.
Visit to Osu Castle Dungeon and W.E.B Du Bois’s tomb.
Diaspora African Forum who co-sponsored the trip also spearheaded the arrangement of hospitalizing the two African Americans at their headquarters. They also organized activities that interested the two elders. This included a visit to Osu Castle Dungeon and W.E.B Du Bois’s tomb etc.
One of the high points of the visit was the conferment of chieftaincy titles on the centenarians. The leader of the Igbo community, Igwe Amb. Dr. Eze Ihenetu, gave Mother Fletcher the title of a Queenship while Van Ellis was crowned a Chief of Igboland.
Finally, they left on the 21st of August of 2021 after experiencing a deep sense of African fraternity. The third survivor, Lessie Benningfield Randle (106 years old) declined to honor the invitation. However, approved of it and told her colleagues that she would be with them in spirit.
While it is hard to erase scars, we can remove them from the spotlight and replace them with good memories. That is what Our Black Truth did for Tulsa massacre survivors. Hopefully, they will find a reason to smile when reminiscing their immediate past visit to Africa. Ghanaian government offered the duo citizenship and they gladly accepted.
The American government has been battling racism and prejudice for a long time. Over the last century, various reforms have been carried out to give African Americans a sense of belonging. A lot of progress has been made over the years but civil societies believe the change can and should be faster. Rev. Anthony L. Scott, a pastor of First Baptist Church of North Tulsa rightly said,
“Survivors and their descendants are deserving of individual monetary reparations because of the massacre that took place. That will compensate those families as far as legacy wealth and helping their families. But, I’d also like to see redevelopment reparations on a grander scale to compensate for a self-sustaining black economic engine that would have benefited everyone had it not been destroyed.”
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