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Viola Ford Fletcher, Eldest Survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre, Releases Her Memoir

by Joshua Brown
10 comments
Viola Ford Fletcher's memoir

Despite being a centenarian, Viola Ford Fletcher remains undeterred in her quest for justice.

In recent years, Fletcher has undertaken international travels, given testimonies before Congress, and lent support to a reparations lawsuit – all part of her campaign for accountability regarding the massacre that obliterated the original “Black Wall Street” of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, an event she experienced as a child.

At the age of 109, Fletcher now unveils her memoir, an exploration of her life shaped by the massacre, when a white mob destroyed the once-prosperous Black district of Greenwood. Mocha Media Inc. will publish the book on Tuesday, and it will become broadly available for purchase on Aug. 15.

In an interview with The Big Big News, she confessed that the fear of retaliation contributed to her years of near-silence about the massacre.

“Now that I’m an elderly woman, there’s nothing else to speak about,” Fletcher said. “We decided to put it into a book and maybe that would help.”

Her memoir, titled “Don’t Let Them Bury My Story,” implores readers to continue seeking truth, justice, and reconciliation, no matter how long it takes. Her recounting of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which she witnessed at the age of seven, is a graphic depiction she hopes will preserve the history nearly forgotten due to lack of recognition by mainstream historians and political figures.

Fletcher questions in her book, “How could a violent, crazed, racist mob be armed with deadly weapons and be allowed – even encouraged – to slaughter innocent Black individuals and obliterate a whole community?”

Her memoir also covers the tension escalation between Black and white citizens of Tulsa that began on May 31, 1921, following a sensationalized report of an alleged assault by a 19-year-old Black man on a 17-year-old white girl, published in the white-owned Tulsa Tribune.

Over an 18-hour period, between May 31 and June 1, an inflamed mob implemented a scorched-earth campaign against Greenwood. The massacre led to an estimated death toll of up to 300, with more than 35 city blocks and 191 businesses destroyed, leaving approximately 10,000 Black residents displaced.

In her book, Fletcher gives a chilling account of her family’s hasty departure from the town via horse-drawn carriage, passing piles of corpses in the streets as they escaped the mayhem.

Although the descendants of the victims expected justice and reparations to follow once the conspiracy of silence around the event was broken decades later, this hasn’t happened yet. Fletcher and two other survivors are currently involved in a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa.

Ike Howard, Fletcher’s grandson and co-author of the memoir, attributed the lack of full recovery from the massacre by Tulsa’s Black community to systemic racism. He said, “We speak for all those who faced a similar situation and are no longer here to share their stories.”

Fletcher’s memoir traverses a vast span of history that she has lived through, including virus outbreaks, economic crises, international conflicts, and significant moments in the Civil Rights Movement.

The horrific images from the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol in January, following the historic election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, rekindled her painful memories of the 1921 Greenwood massacre.

In an AP interview, Fletcher credited her active lifestyle at an advanced age to faith and family. She recently visited New York to promote her book and saw the cover of her memoir displayed on the giant screens in Times Square.

Hughes Van Ellis, Fletcher’s 102-year-old brother, also a massacre survivor and World War II veteran, voiced his hope for justice in his lifetime. “We’re getting pretty close, but we aren’t close enough,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. I’m fighting for myself and my people.”


This piece was penned by Aaron Morrison, a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. You can follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Viola Ford Fletcher’s memoir

Who is Viola Ford Fletcher?

Viola Ford Fletcher is the oldest living survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. She’s known for her active pursuit of justice and accountability over the incident.

What is the title of Viola Ford Fletcher’s memoir?

Viola Ford Fletcher’s memoir is titled “Don’t Let Them Bury My Story”.

When and where did the Tulsa Race Massacre occur?

The Tulsa Race Massacre occurred in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, often referred to as “Black Wall Street”. It took place over an 18-hour period from May 31 to June 1, 1921.

What is the focus of Viola Ford Fletcher’s memoir?

The memoir focuses on Viola Ford Fletcher’s life experiences, especially her eyewitness account of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. It is also a call to action for readers to pursue truth, justice, and reconciliation.

Is Viola Ford Fletcher involved in any legal action regarding the Tulsa Race Massacre?

Yes, Viola Ford Fletcher, along with two other centenarian survivors, are currently plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa, seeking justice and reparations for the Black community affected by the massacre.

More about Viola Ford Fletcher’s memoir

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10 comments

Emma_2023 July 5, 2023 - 8:02 am

We owe it to survivors like viola to never let these stories be buried. mad respect for her courage!

Reply
Tom Jenkins July 5, 2023 - 8:18 am

So amazed by Viola’s spirit and courage at this age! Her story is a stark reminder of the horrible history we shouldn’t forget. hope her book does well…

Reply
HistoryBuff July 5, 2023 - 6:59 pm

a living testament of a brutal past, her memoir is a must read. kudos to viola and her family. its high time for justice!

Reply
MarthaS July 5, 2023 - 11:37 pm

viola is such an inspiration, i just preordered her book! it’s high time we learn and acknowledge the brutal past. Can’t wait to read…

Reply
JakeThompson July 6, 2023 - 3:44 am

This is history, raw and powerful. Puts a real human face on the tragedy. Looking forward to the memoir. Justice for Greenwood!

Reply
MarthaS July 6, 2023 - 10:00 pm

viola is such an inspiration, i just preordered her book! it’s high time we learn and acknowledge the brutal past. Can’t wait to read…

Reply
JakeThompson July 7, 2023 - 5:13 am

This is history, raw and powerful. Puts a real human face on the tragedy. Looking forward to the memoir. Justice for Greenwood!

Reply
HistoryBuff July 7, 2023 - 6:29 am

a living testament of a brutal past, her memoir is a must read. kudos to viola and her family. its high time for justice!

Reply
Emma_2023 July 7, 2023 - 11:27 am

We owe it to survivors like viola to never let these stories be buried. mad respect for her courage!

Reply
Tom Jenkins July 7, 2023 - 1:28 pm

So amazed by Viola’s spirit and courage at this age! Her story is a stark reminder of the horrible history we shouldn’t forget. hope her book does well…

Reply

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