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Oldest known Tulsa Race Massacre survivor turns 107, is honored by celebs

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Viola Fletcher, a Bartlesville woman who is believed to be the oldest survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, observed her 107th birthday on Monday.

A Bartlesville woman who is believed to be the oldest survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre observed a birthday Monday, with several celebrities and public figures pitching in to help her celebrate.

Viola Fletcher, who turned 107, was greeted with a series of personal video messages, including from actors Danny Glover and Piper Perabo, musician Michael Stipe and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, among others.

“For you showing strength, letting the world know of truths that tried to be buried — today we celebrate your love and your light,” Booker said. “You are touching generations not yet born.”

“We love you,” Glover said. “We are your children who will continue the fight with you, alongside you.”

Fletcher, a longtime Bartlesville resident, will be returning to Tulsa later this month to help mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Organizers of the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival, set for May 28-30 in the Greenwood District, also announced Monday that Fletcher and her fellow survivors will serve as the festival’s headliners and will be honored at a special event.

The festival will feature Booker, who will participate virtually, and a host of entertainers and activists, organizers said.

In their video messages to Fletcher on Monday, many of the participants voiced their support for race massacre reparations.

Fletcher is one of the plaintiffs in a state reparations lawsuit filed last year, along with two other massacre survivors, Lessie Randle, 106, of Tulsa and Hughes Van Ellis, 100, of Aurora, Colorado.

The lawsuit, filed against the city of Tulsa, Tulsa Regional Chamber, Tulsa County Commission, Tulsa County sheriff and others, argues that the massacre created a public nuisance, the effects of which still haunt north Tulsa’s Black community.

Fletcher, who was born Viola Ford in 1914 in Comanche County, grew up in a family of sharecroppers.

Her family moved around before settling in the Tulsa area.

She would’ve been 7 at the time of the 1921 massacre.

“I was asleep, as far as I’ve been told,” Fletcher said in a video interview. “We were all aroused up, getting up and getting dressed so we could leave.”

She said she remembers hearing “the noise of guns shooting, could smell the smoke, see the fire flashing, and people — a lot of people running and in a hurry to gather up and leave.”

Fletcher married and moved to California during World War II, where she worked in the shipyards.

After the war, she moved back to Oklahoma and settled in Bartlesville.

At 107, Fletcher is one of the state’s oldest residents. The oldest known Oklahoman currently is 111-year-old Ethel Bowens of Guthrie.

Fletcher, according to Centenarians of Oklahoma, is one of seven Oklahomans who are the oldest in six-generation families.

Fletcher has talked about her life in a number of interviews, including for the Oklahoma State University library’s Oklahoma Oral History Research Program.


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