Viola Fletcher, oldest living survivor of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, celebrates 110th birthday

Fletcher was 7 years old when a Black man was allegedly accused of sexual assault after riding in an elevator with a white woman, sparking the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Viola Fletcher Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Viola Ford Fletcher speaks during an interview with The Associated Press on June 16, 2023, in New York. This month, Fletcher celebrated her 110th birthday. (Photo credit: Mary Altaffer/AP)

After over a century, Viola Fletcher is grateful to still be among the living.

On May 5, Fletcher, the oldest surviving witness of the Tulsa Race Massacre, celebrated her 110th birthday surrounded by her loved ones, People magazine reported.

“I’m real proud to be this age,” Fletcher told KJRH News. “It’s a blessing to live this long and easy to do. If I can do it, others can.”

Fletcher, born Viola Ford, was 7 years old on June 1, 1921, when a young Black man named Dick Rowland rode in an elevator with a white woman named Sarah Page. According to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum, details of what followed vary, but Rowland was arrested and allegedly accused of sexual assault. 

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An “inflammatory” local news report sparked conflict between Black and white mobs around the courthouse, where the sheriff and his men were protecting Rowland. Soon after, white rioters looted and set fire to Tulsa’s Greenwood District, a center of Black prosperity, resulting in the bloodiest instance of racial violence in American history.

Preliminary reports indicated that the blaze destroyed 35 city blocks and left 36 people dead and 800 injured. Historians today estimate that as many as 300 people died.

In 1932, Viola Ford married Robert Fletcher. Together, they relocated to California to work in the shipyards during World War II, where she, per her oral history, worked as an assistant welder and placed steel slabs to form ships. After the war, the Fletchers settled in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to raise their three children.

“I have lived through the massacre every day,” Fletcher previously said, theGrio reported. “Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.”