One of the Last Survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Dies at 102

Hughes Van Ellis Uncle Red last known survivors Tulsa Race Riots 1912 Massacre
Images: Brandon Bell/Getty Images; Public Domain via Wikipedia

Van Ellis’s family fled when he was 6-months-old from a white mob that killed hundreds of Black people in an Oklahoma community over a century ago.

Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis, one of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre , died on Monday at the age of 102, according to a family publicist.

Van Ellis’s family fled when he was 6-months-old from a white mob that killed hundreds of Black people and destroyed an Oklahoma community more than a century ago, publicist Mocha Ochoa said in a statement about Van Ellis’s death.

“He was pure joy personified,” Ochoa said. “I will miss him dearly but honored to have had the privilege to share time, space and history ‘Uncle Redd.’ They say when an elder dies, so does a library.”

Despite his family losing everything, Van Ellis still believed in the promise of his country and fought for the U.S. in World War II, because in the end, he believed America would get it right, the statement noted.

According to the statement, Van Ellis is survived by his daughters, Mallee and Muriel, as well as his large family.

In July, an Oklahoma judge dismissed a lawsuit that was seeking reparations and was filed on behalf of Van Ellis, his older sister Viola Fletcher and Lessie Benngingfield Randle who at the time were the last known survivors of the massacre. Benningfield Randle, who is 108, and Fletcher, who is 109, are still alive.

Tulsa Massacre survivor sues for reparations

The lawsuit was filed against the city of Tulsa, the county and also named the Oklahoma National Guard. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice which means it cannot be refiled in state court. However, the decision to dismiss the case has since been appealed.

The defendants argued that the plaintiffs did not suffer personal adverse effects from the massacre, however, according to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said they have never recovered from the massacre and that it was one of the country’s “worst acts of domestic terrorism.”

A white mob killed about 300 Black Americans in a place that used to be called the “Black Wall Street” on May 31, 1921 and into the next day. It was in the Greenwood District, which is a place where prior to the massacre Black business leaders, homeowners and others thrived.

More than 1,200 homes and at least 60 businesses and churches were burned and destroyed within the district’s 35 blocks.

It is believed that the massacre was most likely started when a Black boy got into an elevator with a white girl in Tulsa and a local newspaper then insinuated that he had tried to sexually assault her. This allegation was never put forth by the girl, and yet the newspaper’s editorial page still called for him to be lynched.

“This brutal, inhumane attack … robbed thousands of African Americans of their right of self-determination on which they had built this self-sustaining community,” the suit stated.

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Kylie Werner