Senate considers making Black Wall Street a national monument

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(WASHINGTON) — More than 100 years after the nation’s deadliest race massacre, the Senate is considering a bipartisan bill to grant national monument status to Greenwood, Oklahoma, also known as “Black Wall Street.”

In 1921, Black Wall Street was burned to ashes by white mobs who attacked the then-thriving and predominantly Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The state of Oklahoma originally recorded 36 deaths from the massacre; however, a 2001 state commission reported that the number killed was likely as high as 300 people.

The bill has gained bipartisan support and has been introduced by Sens. Cory Booker and James Lankford. Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, Tulsa Race Massacre descendants were on Capitol Hill advocating for the monument status. The group, led by Tiffany Crutcher, head of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, and Reuben Gant, executive director of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, met with lawmakers. Their written testimony has been added to the congressional record.

The Historic Greenwood District Black Wall Street National Monument Coalition said it believes the national monument designation would “help catalyze the resurgence of this economic and cultural hub after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre gutted one of the most remarkable success stories that America has ever seen.”

“May 31, 2024, marks 103 years since the start of a ruthless effort to wipe Black Wall Street off the map — and a state-sponsored campaign to erase it from America’s memory,” the group said. With one voice, we stress to this subcommittee that the time is now to help us preserve the rich heritage and lessons that make this community such an indelible part of our nation’s story.”

There are two remaining survivors of the century-old massacre” Viola Fletcher, known as “Mother Fletcher,” who turned 110 this month, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, known as “Mother Randle.” She is 109.

In 2021, the two women, along with Mother Randle’s brother, Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis, who died in October, testified in front of the Senate in 2021 about their memories of the incident and the aftermath of the experience as they tried to appeal to the senate for reparations and an acknowledgment of what happened to them.

Mother Fletcher, who was just 7 at the time of the massacre, told lawmakers: “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire.”

She added, “I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not, and other survivors do not. And our descendants do not.”

The coalition urged Congress on Wednesday to act quickly on the effort.

“Fortunately, there are still massacre survivors who are alive and eager to witness Congress take a historic step toward making the Greenwood community whole. But we’re running out of time,” the coalition said.

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