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One of last survivors of Oklahoma race massacre dies at 102

One of last survivors of Oklahoma race massacre dies at 102
Survivors and siblings Viola Fletcher and Hughes Van Ellis listen as US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the centennial anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre during a visit to the Greenwood Cultural Centre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US, June 1, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters file

One of the last three known Black Tulsans who lived through a 1921 race massacre in the Oklahoma town has died at 102, his family said.

Hughes Van Ellis, who sued the city of Tulsa seeking reparations for one of the deadliest acts of racial violence in US history, died on Monday (Oct 9) in Denver, Colorado, his family said in a statement.

As many as 300 people, most of them Black, were killed when white residents burned Tulsa's African American neighbourhood of Greenwood.

Ellis, an infant at the time, and his older sister fled with their family during the attack in which carloads of white residents staged drive-by shootings, burned homes and businesses and beat Black residents, according to historical accounts.

The Greenwood area, known as Black Wall Street because of the prosperity of its citizens, had a population of over 10,000 Black residents at the time when racial segregation was strict and the Ku Klux Klan had strong membership in Oklahoma.

Ellis, his 109-year-old sister Viola Fletcher, and another survivor, Leslie Benningfield Randle, 108, sued Tulsa for reparations including a 99-year tax holiday for residents who are descendants of victims of the massacre.

An Oklahoma judge dismissed the lawsuit in July and their lawyers have appealed to the state's supreme court.

"We will continue the legacy he left behind: one of persistence in the face of struggle, of remembering and teaching our shared history, and fighting for what’s right so that all of us can be free," lawyers Schulte, Roth & Zabel, Damario Solomon-Simmons said in a statement.

The massacre began after a white woman told police a Black man had grabbed her arm in an elevator in a downtown commercial building, according to an account by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Police arrested the man, whom the Tulsa Tribune reported had tried to assault the woman.

White residents surrounded the courthouse, demanding the man be handed over. A white man tried to disarm a Black World War One veteran and a shot rang out, touching off violence in which 35 blocks of Greenwood were destroyed.

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