Hughes Van Ellis, one of the last three known survivors from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, died Oct. 9 at 102, 2 News Oklahoma reports.
Van Ellis was a baby when the tragedy occurred but the event had devastating consequences that lasted his entire lifetime.
Two days of arson left Black Wall Street destroyed and dozens of Black people killed. The attack financially ruined Van Ellis’ family, which took years to recover. “We lost so much. I believe if all this hadn’t happened when I was a child they would’ve been better in life,” he told the news organization.
During WWII, Van Ellis joined the U.S. army, serving alongside British soldiers. His deployment was marred with discrimination.
“In the service you had a white fountain to drink out of, you had a Black fountain,” he said. “Then you had a restroom. They had one stool for the Black guys and five, six stools for the other side,” he said. “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 along with his sister Viola Fletcher, 109, who also survived the arson spree testified before Congress about the lasting repercussions of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
“The Tulsa Race Massacre isn’t a footnote in a history book for us,” he said. “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. I was there when it happened, I’m still here. My sister was there when it happened, she’s still here.
“We’re not asking for a handout,” he added. “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 lives on through his family and older sister, who will continue their fight for reparations with the Justice for Greenwood team.