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Surrounded by friends and family, oldest Tulsa Race Massacre survivor turns 110

Viola Fletcher celebrates her 110th birthday on Friday, May 10, 2024.
Elizabeth Caldwell
Viola Fletcher celebrates her 110th birthday on Friday, May 10, 2024.

One of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is now 110 years old. Listen above for a report from Viola Fletcher's birthday party.


ELIZABETH CALDWELL: In Little Elm, Texas, Fletcher is sitting on a couch in a house packed with friends and family from all over the country.

VIOLA FLETCHER: I’m the mother of three children. It looks like I’ve been nice to somebody.

EC: Today she’s a supercentenarian. I ask her what advice she would give to young people.

VF: Now you’ll have to help me on that question. Young people?!

EC: She says she doesn’t really know any young people.

VF: Since I don’t get out and associate with them, I don’t know.

EC: Fletcher was just seven years old when she escaped the white mob that destroyed the neighborhood known as Black Wall Street. Her family lost everything and had to live in a tent. But she says love, not bitterness, has kept her alive for so long.

VF: Being fair with others, with their lifestyle and everything, I’ve, you know, always been on the honest side, and cooperate.

EC: For much of her life, Fletcher worked as a maid. She’s never been compensated by the government for its role in the massacre. But her attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons says he admires her style.

DAMARIO SOLOMON-SIMMONS: She has this great attitude, this wonderful, loving spirit.

EC: Solomon-Simmons says he hopes the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which is considering whether Fletcher’s massacre reparations case can go to trial, will not wait too long to issue a decision.

DSS: As I told the court, time is of the essence. She’s 110.

EC: Hughes Van Ellis was Fletcher’s brother. He also survived the Tulsa massacre, but he died in 2023 at the age of 102. His daughter, Malee Ellis Craft, also urges the Supreme Court not to delay.

MALEE ELLIS CRAFT: I think it is personally so egregious that it has been over a hundred years and they just need to move.

EC: Fletcher’s last surviving partner in the reparations lawsuit is Lessie Benningfield Randle, who is 109 years old. For KWGS News, I’m Elizabeth Caldwell.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.