Seven-year-old Viola Fletcher was woken up 100 years ago by her parents and told they had to leave the house.
Enraged to kill black people and destroy the economic mecca of black America, gun-wielding white mobs set off under cover of night in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Now 107, Fletcher remembers the night that changed Tulsa forever.
“People are running and shouting. And noise like an airplane from the wind. And—there were just so many things bothering you, you know. And the fire burns, and the smoke smells," Fletcher told NBC News. "And then we could hear someone walking through the neighborhood ... that everyone should leave town, that they were killing all black people. So, you know, that was appalling."
Hughes Van Ellis, left, a Tulsa Race massacre survivor and World War II veteran, and Viola Fletcher, second right, the oldest surviving survivor of the Tulsa Race massacre, testify before the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee
Hughes Van Ellis, left, a Tulsa Race massacre survivor and World War II veteran, and Viola Fletcher, second right, the oldest surviving survivor of the Tulsa Race massacre, testify in front of a civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee hearing on "Continuing Injustice Centenary of the "Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre on Capitol Hill on May 19, 2021". Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images
Led by his parents, he and his five siblings fled the dangerous mob that had already set several buildings and homes on fire. They started living in a tent in the woods 35 miles away.
On their way, a plume of black smoke covered the sky. There are black corpses lying in the street. Iniquity prevailed.
The mob fearlessly carried out its mission of causing havoc and disrupting civilization on Greenwood Avenue.
Today marks 100 years since the genocide that transformed the community to its original thriving form. A month's worth of events, including the Reconciliation Symposium and the unveiling of the Greenwood Art Project, will conclude at 10:30 pm. Monday night marked the moment when the first gunshot was fired with a candlelight vigil. President Joe Biden is expected to visit on Tuesday.
By 1921, Greenwood was a cultural inspiration representing black prosperity, economic achievement, and progress.
Tailors, shoeshiners, black-owned groceries, theaters, jibes, accountant and doctor's offices, dance halls, schools, a library and post office defined the thriving, secluded 35-square-block district, which was named after the Booker T. Washington was credited with dubbing. America's Negro Wall Street."
After some time, the name changed to "Black Wall Street".
But within 16 hours, the self-contained Greenwood had turned into rubble, which became known as the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Officially, according to records, 37 people were killed.
Although many Black Tulsons and historians estimate that around 300 people lost their lives, the missing bodies were dumped in the nearby Arkansas River.
There are three survivors of that infamous night.
Fletcher and his brother, Hughes van Ellis, who was an infant at the time, are two of them.
"It sticks in my mind. I wake up about four times a night, you know. Some nights, I'll be awake for, say, 30, 40 minutes until I can lay back," Van Ellis told NBC News Told to. "I can't sleep at night. I want to keep the light on. i like light. When I was old enough to get married and raise a family, that's when, yes, a lot dawned on me. "
Hughes Van Ellis, a Tulsa Race Massacre survivor and World War II veteran, testifies in front of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hearing on "Continuing Injustice: Centenary of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Massacre" on Capitol Hill on May 19, 2021 . Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images
It has become difficult to see blacks running away, killing them and looting homes.
"It just stays with you. It's something you don't forget; you think about that all the time," Fletcher said. "Every evening, you know, I feel like it's time to run and can't tell what might happen. But I'm sure it won't happen again."
She continued: “People were being killed and it seemed they were breaking into people's homes and taking away some of their valuables. But just ransacking the neighborhood, you know, the biggest damage is everything that black people had. "
Before the massacre, about 9,000 blacks lived in and around Greenwood Avenue, northeast of downtown Tulsa.
At least 1,250 black homes were destroyed in addition to other commercial businesses.
Tulson and the Harvard Law School graduate and historian, who has authored four books in the Greenwood Avenue district, said conservative property damage estimates ranged from $1.5 million to $2 million, which equates to more than $25 million today.
The massacre was caused by a number of factors, including racism, railroads and the lust of land by industrialists for which communities sat, jealousy over the success of black people, the expansion of the Ku Klux Klan and the East Tulsa Tribune, he said.
The afternoon newspaper wrote a story with the headline, "Nub Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator."
A crowd of onlookers watch the fire in Tulsa, Okla., on June 1, 1921, from Cincinnati Avenue to 2nd St. to Detroit Avenue.
A crowd of onlookers watch the fire in Tulsa, Okla., on June 1, 1921, from Cincinnati Avenue to 2nd St. to Detroit Avenue. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa
"It's no longer black Mecca, but we no longer live in that type of society. It's a separate integrated community. Land ownership has changed; community structure has changed dramatically. It's in the midst of a renaissance. ,” Johnson said.