• Wed. Jun 29th, 2022

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3 Tulsa Massacre Survivors Receive $1 Million Donation

The three known remaining survivors of the 1921 massacre that saw a white mob kill hundreds of Black residents in Tulsa, Okla., have received a $1 million donation from a philanthropic group frustrated that the justice system has yet to compensate them.

Hughes Van Ellis, 101, Viola Fletcher, 108, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 107, all survived the rampage, in which a mob burned more than 1,250 homes and erased years of Black success in Greenwood. Once a booming district known as Black Wall Street, Greenwood was made up of some 40 blocks of restaurants, hotels and theaters owned and run by Black entrepreneurs.

It was among the worst racist terror attacks in U.S. history. More than 100 years later, they and their families have never received any compensation for the massacre from state or city officials.

“These families that were clearly wronged never really got any sense of reimbursement,” said Ed Mitzen, an entrepreneur and the co-founder of the organization Business for Good, who on Wednesday in Tulsa presented the survivors with a check to be split equally among them.

“What happened is indisputable,” Mr. Mitzen said, adding, “it felt like the powers that be in the state were trying to run out the clock on these people.”

In 2020, survivors of the massacre and descendants of the victims filed a lawsuit saying they must be compensated for the losses they endured. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that the case could proceed, in part.

“The surviving families won, in court, the right to go to court,” Mr. Mitzen said. “We just thought that was ridiculous.”

Michael E. Swartz, a lawyer representing survivors and descendants in the case, said by phone on Thursday that he had yet to receive a written ruling from the judge advising when the case could proceed.

Ike Howard, 55, the grandson of Ms. Fletcher, one of the three survivors, described the donation as a “blessing” that honored the living victims and the horrors that they had endured by enabling them to comfortably enjoy the final years of their lives.

“They live with pain, and they don’t sleep at night,” Mr. Howard said, adding that his grandmother, who testified at a hearing last year just before the centennial of the massacre, sometimes experienced nightmares in which she would recall the events. He said he would remind her: “I’m here with you. We’re in 2022, we’re not in 1921.”

Mr. Howard said she was “absolutely floored” by the gift, adding that his grandmother planned to spend the money on renovations, as well as contributions to the college education of her grandchildren. “She wants to make sure they get off to a better start,” he said.

Regina Goodwin, a Tulsa Democratic representative whose great-grandparents owned property destroyed in the massacre, praised Mr. Mitzen for what she described as an “extremely generous and kind” gesture.

But, she added, “there’s a difference between generosity and justice.” The continuing fight for reparations will continue, Ms. Goodwin added. “The two should not be confused at all.”