Tulsa Race Massacre survivor known as Mother Randle turns 108

The other known survivors of the 1921 massacre are Viola Ford Fletcher, 108, and Hughes Van Ellis, her 101-year-old brother.

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Happy birthday to “Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle, who turned 108 on Thursday. She is one of the last surviving victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, one of American history’s most horrifying acts of domestic terrorism.

According to The Black Wall Street Times, Mother Randle is still awaiting justice for the carnage that occurred when a white mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma — with city approval — rampaged through the Greenwood District, where Black Wall Street is. The other remaining survivors of the incident are “Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher, also 108, and “Uncle” Hughes Van Ellis, 101, Fletcher’s brother.

Kristy Williams, a member of the city’s African American Affairs Commission and the oversight committee for the 1921 mass graves inquiry in Tulsa, took to Facebook on Thursday to honor Randle.

Mother Randle and other survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre
Lessie Benningfield Randle (center), who turned 108 this week, was joined by fellow Tulsa Race Massacre survivors Hughes Van Ellis (left) and his sister, Viola Ford Fletcher, on May 28, 2021, for a carriage ride during a memorial march in Tulsa 100 years after the massacre. (Photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP, File)

“Here’s to 108 times around the sun!.” Williams posted. “Mother Randle, enjoy your special day! 108 years old!!! I can only pray to be so blessed! Happy Birthday Beautiful!”

Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, thousands of white Tulsa residents set 36 square blocks on fire, including the Greenwood District, bombed the area and killed more than 300 Black men, women and children. The attackers rampaged after a small group of Black military veterans stopped a mob from lynching 19-year-old Dicky Rowland.

Mother Randle’s birthday coincides with the ongoing lawsuit against the city of Tulsa and other parties responsible for the massacre. Damario Solomon-Simmons of the Justice for Greenwood Foundation is one of the attorneys representing its known survivors in a public nuisance action that makes restitution claims based on an Oklahoma law.

“Mother Randle—one of the three last-living survivors of the #TulsaRaceMassacre—is 108 years old,” Simmons said of her birthday via Twitter. “While each year is a blessing, every day that passes without any JUSTICE is a reminder of the failed system that still exists today.”

The Black Wall Street Times reported that in addition to the lawsuit, the city of Tulsa faced backlash last summer for how it handled the investigation into mass graves connected to the massacre. Following the swift reburial of 19 excavated graves from Oaklawn Cemetery, survivors’ descendants and oversight committee members accused the city of trying to cover up what happened. Soon after researchers learned one victim had a gunshot wound, there was a rush to rebury the others.

The excavations have restarted, which has so far led to the discovery of 21 additional coffins.

Recently, the city of Tulsa, Tulsa County, Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Oklahoma Military Department and other organizations considered responsible for the massacre presented a third petition to dismiss the case. The Justice For Greenwood Foundation wrote in an email to supporters on Tuesday that the defendants are waiting for the three elders to pass away.

Uncle Ellis will turn 102 on Jan. 11, and his sister, Mother Fletcher, will turn 109 four months later, on May 10.

“People in positions of power, many just like you, have told us to wait,” Mother Randle told Congress last year, as noted by The Black Wall Street Times. “Others have told us it’s too late. It seems that justice in America is always so slow, or not possible for Black people. And we are made to feel crazy just for asking for things to be made right.”

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