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Watch now - 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: 107-year-old Bartlesville woman, other last known survivors speak to D.C. lawmakers
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Watch now - 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: 107-year-old Bartlesville woman, other last known survivors speak to D.C. lawmakers

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One of the last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre told national lawmakers Wednesday that, 100 years later, she can “still smell the smoke” and “hear the screams” from the night her family fled Tulsa and invading white mobs.

“I was awakened by my family. My parents and five siblings were there. I was told we had to leave, and that was it,” said 107-year-old Viola Fletcher.

“I have lived through the massacre every day. … I will never forget.”

Fletcher, of Bartlesville, was in Washington, D.C., for a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing discussing the massacre’s legacy and the possibility of compensation for survivors and descendants.

She was joined for the hearing by the two other last known massacre survivors. Fletcher’s brother, Hughes Van Ellis, 100, of Aurora, Colorado, was there in person. Tulsan Lessie Randle, 106, testified virtually.

The trio are among the plaintiffs in a recently filed state lawsuit seeking reparations for the massacre.

“By the grace of God, I am still here,” said Randle, who read a statement to the committee. “I have survived to tell this story. I believe that I am still here to share it with you. Please give me, my family and my community some justice.”

It wasn’t the first time this week the massacre, which will mark its centennial May 31-June 1, has received attention on Capitol Hill. On Monday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus commemorated the upcoming centennial on the House floor. Jackson Lee also spoke at the hearing on Wednesday.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Judiciary Committee chairman, noted that he was chairman at the last massacre-related hearing there in 2007.

“I’ve said so before and I’ll say it again,” Nadler said. “The Tulsa Greenwood massacre can be described as an act of ethnic cleansing, which was subsequently wiped from the history books for many decades.”

In addition to ensuring the history is never lost again, he added, “this hearing is another opportunity to consider the massacre’s long-lasting repercussions for the survivors, their descendants and the greater Black community and what role Congress can play in remedying this historic injustice.”

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties has jurisdiction over setting up compensation funds, officials said. It recently reauthorized the 911 Victim Compensation Fund, which has been suggested as a model for compensating Tulsa massacre claimants.

Damario Solomon-Simmons, lead attorney in the state reparations lawsuit, also addressed the committee in person. “You heard from my clients who I have the great honor to serve as lead counsel — these three wonderful, amazing people,” he said.

Despite a hard full day of travel and not reaching their hotel until after midnight, Fletcher never complained, he said. “She said ‘I’ve got to be here. I want to see justice.’”

Solomon-Simmons added: “I am coming to you in the name of my community, my people, my clients asking that you do for us what this Congress has done for the Japanese internment victims, has done for the 911 terrorist victims. We’re asking to be treated as full human beings”

Also testifying in person Wednesday were Tulsans Chief Amusan and Tiffany Crutcher, both descendants of massacre survivors.

State Rep. Regina Goodwin addressed the committee virtually. “Reparations are due; restitution is due,” she said. “We’ve got three great examples staring us in the face, crying out for justice. All we have to do is answer.”

Fletcher, who turned 107 May 10, was the first to speak. She read from prepared remarks.

“Most of my life I was a domestic worker serving white families. I never made much money. To this day I can barely afford my everyday needs.”

She added: “I’m asking my country to acknowledge what happened in Tulsa in 1921, what has happened to me, the traumas and the pain, the loss.

“This committee has the power to lead us down a better path.”

View the full hearing at: youtube.com/watch?v=SM3evloMtAA.

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