Viola Ford Fletcher may be 109-years-old, but her memory is razor sharp.
“I remember being awakened by my parents that you know about all of the noise gun shooting and houses burning and airplanes and just so many unpleasant things was happening and killing people,” Fletcher said.
She was only 7-years-old when her neighborhood in Greenwood came under siege.
“We really didn’t understand it. Why would would people do cruel things like that, you know? The night it happened we were told to leave town if we wanted to live. They told us to leave because they’re killing all of the Black people. So we left.” Fletcher adds.
Her entire family ran for their lives, including Fletcher’s baby brother.
Hughes Van Ellis was just 3-months-old at the time. Today, he’s 102-years-old. He’s been fighting for reparations with his big sister.
“I’ve testified four times, even on television,” he said.
Two years ago, this World War II veteran testified before Congress during the centennial of the massacre.
He told representatives at the time that “because of the massacre we were driven out of our homes. We were left with nothing.”
Viola Ford Fletcher also shared her eyewitness testimony: “I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home. I still see Black men being shot. Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke. I still see Black businesses being burned,” she said at the time.
Those businesses in Greenwood were known as “Black Wall Street,” one of the most affluent African American communities in the country. There were hotels, barbershops, grocery stores, stretching over 40 blocks — all owned by people of color.
Then Memorial Day weekend in 1921, police accused a Black man of assaulting a woman. That alleged incident provoked a white mob to torch and bomb the entire neighborhood.
During the centennial of the massacre, President Joe Biden traveled to Oklahoma and met with survivors and descendants.
“The events we speak of today took place 100 years ago and yet I’m the first president in 100 years ever to come to Tulsa,” he said. “Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can’t be buried no matter how hard people try.”
“Don’t Let Them Bury My Story” is a new book written by Viola Ford Fletcher.
“If you read the book, well that’s not burying my story, that’s you know, keeping it in mind,” she said.
Justice has been a long time coming. Their case for restitution is still pending after all these years.
“They want their day in court. They want closure. We would like the city to heal. We want people to go to Tulsa and see the greenwood area for themselves, look into the history,” Ike Howard, the grandson, said.
“They were there, they survived the worst massacre in U.S. history. It’s the first time the U.S. bombed its own citizens,” Howard added.
Today’s residents of Tulsa honor the painful history of Greenwood: the dozens of lives lost, the homes and businesses destroyed and the ongoing fight for restitution.
There are memorials and museums, but Ford Fletcher wants justice.
“I wished everyone living would learn about it. I went through it and suffered it. And I think I should pass that on to other people. I don’t know exactly what to do to keep it from happening, but we hope it don’t happen again,” she said.
Last year, the philanthropic group “Business For Good” gave a $1 million donation to Ford Fletcher, Van Ellis and the third survivor, Leslie Randle. To date, it’s the only money they’ve ever received.