The three identified survivors of the 1921 race bloodbath in Tulsa, Okla., wherein white mobs gunned down Black folks within the streets and Black-owned companies had been burned to the bottom, appeared earlier than a congressional committee on Wednesday, arguing that justice was far overdue.
Adding a private contact to a House Judiciary subcommittee contemplating reparations for survivors and descendants of the bloodbath, the three centenarians recalled how the violence, among the many worst assaults of racial violence in U.S. historical past, modified the trajectory of their lives. They described feeling protected, even affluent, earlier than the assault, surrounded by family and friends in a neighborhood of largely Black-owned companies.
Then, on June 1, a day that’s not often talked about in historical past textbooks, the neighborhood of Greenwood, residence to a enterprise district often called Black Wall Street, was destroyed by a white mob. The mob looted and set fireplace to the companies, and historians estimate up to 300 folks had been killed, 8,000 left homeless, 23 church buildings burned and greater than 1,200 houses destroyed.
Viola Ford Fletcher, 107, mentioned she nonetheless remembered seeing the Black males being shot and our bodies on the street, may scent the smoke and listen to the screams. She was 7 on the time.
“I have lived through the massacre every day,” she said. “Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.”
Hughes Van Ellis, Ms. Fletcher’s 100-year-old youthful brother, mentioned the survivors had been made to really feel that they had been “unworthy of justice, that we were less valued than whites.”
“We aren’t just black-and-white pictures on a screen,” he mentioned. “We are flesh and blood. I was there when it happened. I’m still here.”
All of the committee members — Democrats and Republicans — rose for standing ovations after the survivors spoke.
The survivors are among the many plaintiffs who’ve sued town of Tulsa, claiming town and the Chamber of Commerce tried to cowl up the assaults and deform the narrative of what had occurred, deflecting blame onto the Black victims and depicting them as instigators. They search punitive damages, tax reduction and scholarships for survivors and their descendants, together with precedence for Black Tulsans in awarding metropolis contracts.
The assaults had been sparked when a Black man, Dick Rowland, was accused of sexually assaulting a white girl, Sarah Page, on May 30, 1921. Hundreds of armed white males gathered outdoors the courthouse the place Mr. Rowland was being held, and a gaggle of armed Black males arrived to forestall a lynching. After a shot was fired, the white mob chased the Black males to Greenwood.
A grand jury blamed the Black males for the riots. No one was ever charged with against the law for the riots.
Mr. Rowland was later exonerated and costs towards him had been dropped, because the authorities concluded he most likely tripped and stepped on the girl’s foot.
For the higher a part of a century, Tulsa did little to bear in mind the victims of the bloodbath. There was no memorial, no yearly commemoration, and even many Tulsa residents knew little about it. Residents started marking the day with modest ceremonies in 1996.
In current years, consciousness of the bloodbath has been rising. In 2019, a fictionalized depiction of the assaults was used as a key plot level in HBO’s “Watchmen,” introducing a brand new technology to the bloodbath in the event that they hadn’t heard about it in historical past courses.
But the survivors are in search of greater than consciousness. They have accused town of turning what stays of Greenwood, now simply half a block, right into a vacationer vacation spot, and utilizing their tales to enrich others however not the victims themselves.
In 2005, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case introduced by bloodbath survivors. They appealed the choice to two federal court docket judges, who mentioned that they had waited too lengthy to file the lawsuit.
Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106, mentioned whereas testifying remotely by video at Wednesday’s listening to that as a 6-year-old lady she didn’t assume she would make it out of the assaults alive. Now her title is getting used to fund-raise for others, and she or he waited too lengthy for justice, she mentioned.
“People in positions of power, many just like you, have told us to wait,” she mentioned. “Others have told us it’s too late. It seems that justice in America is always so slow, or not possible for Black people. And we are made to feel crazy just for asking for things to be made right.”