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Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors Share Their Stories Through New Exhibit At Gilcrease Museum

Matt Trotter
Lessie Benningfield "Mother" Randle (left) and Viola "Mother" Fletcher watch as Randle's granddaughter, LaDonna Penny, talks to a virtual version of her at a new exhibit, "The Legacy of Survival.".

A new exhibit at the Gilcrease Museum lets visitors ask virtual versions of living Tulsa Race Massacre survivors about their experiences.

StoryFile and the Terence Crutcher Foundation present "The Legacy of Survival," which uses artificial intelligence and interviews with 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield "Mother" Randle and 107-year-old Viola "Mother" Fletcher to help them share their stories. Randle and Fletcher watched Thursday as their grandchildren, LaDonna Penny and Ike Howard, tested it out with their virtual counterparts.

Penny asked a question that cued the virtual Mother Randle to talk about how she'd seen men beaten and worse. The real-life Randle then reacted to what she saw.

"So much went on that shouldn't have gone on, and I just wonder if there is a forgiveness for those people because they need it," Randle 

Terence Crutcher Foundation Executive Director Dr. Tiffany Crutcher recognized the women for their courage.

"We were at the nation's capitol two weeks ago, and we heard from Mother Viola Fletcher. She said, 'I'm ready to talk now. I'm ready to share my story now. I want justice before I leave this earth.' We heard from Mother Lessie Benningfield Randle, who said, 'I believe deserve justice. I'm ready to talk now,'" Crutcher said. "And so, we're ready to hear your stories. We're ready for the world to hear your stories."

Tulsa Community Remembrance Coalition Co-founder Greg Robinson said Tulsans cannot go back and change the past, but "The Legacy of Survival" has an important role to play.

"What we can do, though, is ensure that we remember those who endured those hardships, remember the lessons and take them, and move into the future not built on a false premise, not built on a comfortable premise, not built on something that's going to make us sleep well at night — one that's built on truth," Robinson said.

Gilcrease Executive Director Susan Neal said the museum is honored to help tell Randle and Fletcher's stories.

"We hosted a former ambassador to Kuwait. We've hosted senators. We've hosted the elected. We've hosted officials and important people throughout our history in this museum. I don't know that we have ever been graced with two more-important people," Neal told Fletcher and Randle.

Gilcrease is also displaying archives and soil collections from a project honoring victims of lynchings. The exhibit opens Friday and will remain open through July 4, when Gilcrease closes for demolition and rebuilding.

Note: The University of Tulsa, which holds the broadcast license for KWGS, operates the Gilcrease Museum.

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