Hughes Van Ellis, one of the last three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, passed away on October 9 at the age of 102, per reports.
Van Ellis, just a baby during the tragic events, endured a lifetime shaped by the devastating consequences of the massacre. Two days of arson left Black Wall Street in ruins, claiming the lives of many Black residents. The financial fallout lingered for years, deeply affecting Van Ellis’ family. He expressed, “We lost so much. I believe if all this hadn’t happened when I was a child, they would’ve been better in life.”
During World War II, Van Ellis served in the U.S. army alongside British soldiers, facing discrimination that marred his military experience. Recalling the segregation, he shared, “In the service, you had a white fountain to drink out of, you had a Black fountain. Then you had a restroom. They had one stool for the Black guys and five, six stools for the other side. It makes you feel bad. It just makes you feel so bad, you know? But you are in the service, so you have to do your duty. So, you have to live with it.”
In May 2021, Van Ellis and his sister Viola Fletcher, aged 109, who also survived the arson, testified before Congress about the enduring impact of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Van Ellis emphasized, “The Tulsa Race Massacre isn’t a footnote in a history book for us. We live with it every day and the thought of what Greenwood was and what it could have been. We aren’t just black-and-white pictures on a screen; we are flesh and blood.”
He continued, “We’re not asking for a handout. All we are asking for is for a chance to be treated like a first-class citizen who truly is a beneficiary of the promise that this is a land where there is ‘liberty and justice for all.’ We are asking for justice for a lifetime of ongoing harm. Harm that was caused by the Massacre.”
Van Ellis’ legacy endures through his family and older sister, who remain committed to the fight for reparations with the Justice for Greenwood team.