by Lauren Victoria Burke
One of only three known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre has died on October 9 at the age of 102 years old.
Hughes Van Ellis, 102, died in Denver, Colorado, on the morning of October 9. Mr. Van Ellis was born on Jan.11, 1921. The two last known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre are now Viola Ford Fletcher, 109 and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108.
The Greenwood District was a prosperous African American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, often referred to as “Black Wall Street.” It was a thriving business district with a vibrant Black cultural and economic life, home to many Black-owned businesses and residences. On May 31, 1921, a young Black man named Dick Rowland was falsely accused of assaulting a young White woman named Sarah Page in an elevator. The allegation led to Rowland’s arrest and tensions escalated as rumors spread about the incident.
At the time, Hughes Van Ellis was three months old. Over the years there have been several attempts to earn damage rewards for the destruction of life and property by the White community in Tulsa. None of the challenges have been successful so far.
A statement released by the family stated, “Mr. Hughes Van Ellis, 102, passed Mon., Oct. 9th at 11:30 a.m. in Denver, Colorado. A loving family man, he was known as ‘Uncle Redd.’ He was among the three last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the most horrific acts of racist terrorism on American soil.
A WWII war veteran, Mr. Ellis, bravely served America, even as he spent a lifetime awaiting atonement related to the Tulsa Race Massacre. Mr. Ellis was aware, that survivors, his sister Mrs. Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, Mrs. Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and family descendants were recently at our state capitol as part of an interim study focused on 2001 state-commissioned reparation recommendations.”
“Two days ago, Mr. Ellis, urged us to keep fighting for justice. In the midst of his death, there remains an undying sense of right and wrong. Mr. Ellis was assured we would remain steadfast and we repeated to him his own words, ‘We Are One’ and we lastly expressed our love.
The scripture of Jeremiah 6 reads ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ We celebrate the rare life of Mr. Hughes Van Ellis who still inspires us!”
Funeral details are not yet known. Mr. Van Ellis’ funeral ceremony is likely to be another touchpoint around the issue of reparations for the damage done to members of the Black community as a result of systemic racism.