Remembering the Tulsa Race Massacre survivors who never saw justice

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May 31, 2022 marked the 101st anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The massacre took place in the Greenwood district of Tulsa and was the largest anti-darkness protest in US history. The fires that destroyed homes and businesses would last until June 1, 1921.

Many of those who did not die from the fires were shot as they tried to survive and protect their loved ones.

Today and every day we remember those who lost their lives, as well as those who are still with us.

The last three living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre

Lessie Benningfield Randle, Hughes Van Ellis Sr. and Viola Fletcher are the last three known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. As of September 2020, the survivors are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against the City of Tulsa and other entities for their role in the destruction of 36 square blocks in the Greenwood District, the destruction of more than 1,200 homes, over 200 businesses and the murder of 300 black men, women and children.

Lead counsel in the lawsuit is Damario Solomon-Simmons.

“We have a lot of work to do to prove. And we can prove it, we will prove it. But I appreciate it giving us the opportunity to show we had the information to override a motion to dismiss,” Solomon-Simmons said in May.

The last three known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre receive a collective check for $1 million on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 inside the Greenwood Cultural Center. (Mike Creef/The Black Wall Street Times)

Olivia Hooker

Olivia Hooker was a survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre. After the massacre, Hooker became one of four women to serve in the first class of Black SPARS in February 1945.

SPARS is the name of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Women’s Reserve. SPARS is an acronym for “Semper Paratus—Always Ready”

Hooker also finally testified before Congress in 2005, but sadly died aged 103 in 2018 before even seeing justice.

Dr. Olivia Hooker, one of the last survivors of a race-related attack on a black section of Tulsa, Okla., in 1921, testified about the episode before members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others at Capitol Hill in 2005. With her were Otis Granville Clark, far left, another survivor of the violence, and Charles J. Ogletree Jr., lead attorney for survivors. Credit…Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

George Monroe

George Monroe was a survivor of the massacre. Monroe was the first black man in Tulsa to sell Coca-Cola. Monroe also played drums for his band “The Rhythm Aces” which toured the Dallas area.

It is also said that Monroe opened George’s Sandwiches, Shoe Shine Parlor and News Stand at 1005 North Greenwood Avenue when she was 18 years old.

George Monroe died aged 85 in 2001.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said George Monroe. Gathering charred coins would help Monroe testify. NMAAHC, gift of photographer Don Thompson, © Don Thompson

Hal Singer

Hal Singer was a survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Singer was an American jazz and R&B saxophonist and bandleader. He had a small band called “The Orioles” and the “Hal Singer Quintet”. Singer would go on to record the song “Corn Bread”, which made No. 1 on the R&B charts in September 1948.

Hal Singer died aged 100 in 2020.

Mary Jones Parish

Mary E. Jones Parrish was a survivor of the massacre. Parrish would write a first-person account with eyewitness statements collected from dozens of other survivors and publish them immediately after the tragedy. The book published by Parrish would be titled “Events of the Tulsa Disaster”.

A new edition was published in 2021 by Trinity University Press under the title “The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921”. The new edition includes a new afterword by Anneliese M. Bruner, Parrish’s great-granddaughter.

These are just a few names of the people who survived the Tulsa Race Massacre. This year and every year, we will remember those who suffered this tragedy before us as the community of Greenwood seeks justice in the ongoing public nuisance lawsuit.

Elizabeth J. Harless