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Massacre descendant requests meeting with Tulsa Mayor

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GREENWOOD Dist.–Kristi Williams, a descendant of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre survivors, requested a meeting with the city’s mayor on Monday in a letter that condemned the city’s decision to drape potential victim remains in the Tulsa flag.

“This act directly contradicts the clear decision made by the Oversight Committee at its inception. We unanimously agreed not to cover the remains with the Tulsa flag but to use a black cloth instead,” Williams wrote.

Williams is a descendant of John and Loula Williams, a Black Wall Street powerhouse couple who owned the beloved Williams Dreamland Theatre. Where the theatre once stood, a stretch of highway built during urban renewal now stands.

In her letter addressed to Mayor Bynum, Tulsa City Council and the Oversight Committee, Williams requested a meeting to foster open dialogue, understand what happened, and work toward a solution that “preserves the dignity of our ancestors.”

Massacre descendant compares Tulsa flag to Nazi flag

Launched by Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum in 2018, the historic search for Greenwood victims in mass graves began without issue.

However, after the city discovered a body with bullet wounds in 2021, descendants on the Oversight Committee say public meetings stopped and transparency was crushed. They’ve accused the city of re-traumatizing the community by placing bodies back into graves without proper memorial ceremonies.

massacre descendant
Palpable frustration and anger filled the air as members of the community watched the City of Tulsa rush through a reburial of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims. (Photo by Mike Creef / The Black Wall Street Times)

At least 59 graves have been discovered, and seven sets of remains have been exhumed as of September. Some have been sent to a lab in Utah for analysis.

On Monday, Williams’ outrage reached a fever pitch after noticing a Tulsa World report that featured an image of non-descendant committee members carrying a potential victim’s remains in a coffin draped with the Tulsa flag.

“Draping the victims with the Tulsa flag, a symbol of the entity responsible for their deaths, is reminiscent of an insensitive historical parallel, analogous to Germany using the Nazi flag to cover Jewish remains,” Massacre descendant Williams wrote.

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Since Justice for Greenwood civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons launched the historic public nuisance lawsuit on behalf of the last three known living survivors in 2020, Tulsa Mayor Bynum has refused to comment on the pending litigation.

Meanwhile, the city has been using the story of the Massacre and the city’s century-late response for marketing materials. He did, however, publicly address the lawsuit for Massacre survivors and descendants after Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall dismissed it in July 2023.

Immediately after the case was dismissed, Mayor Bynum told the Tulsa World he appreciates Judge Wall dismissing the case “because I completely reject the notion that the citizens of Tulsa have benefited from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre,” Bynum said. “I do not think that is true.”

massacre descendant
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

A month later, attorney Solomon-Simmons filed an appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which has agreed to review the case. If the state Supreme Court rules in the survivors’ favor, the case will go back to Tulsa County for a discovery phase and trial.

“I urgently request a meeting between the Oversight Committee, the Mayor, experts, and relevant teams,” Williams wrote to Mayor Bynum. “This meeting is critical to address the current status of the Oversight Committee and deliberate on the path forward.”

In a city that claims to be leading the fight for racial justice, Massacre descendant Kristi Williams felt forced to publicize a letter just to gain access to a meeting.

Running out the clock on justice

Notably, many in the community and across the nation have long feared that the city is trying to run out the clock on justice for the last three known living survivors.

Survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre from left to right: Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, her little brother Hughes Van Ellis, 102, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108. (Photo credit : Justice for Greenwood)

On Monday, those fears materialized when the youngest known living survivor, 102-year-old “Uncle Redd” Hughes Van Ellis, passed away.

“A WWIl , war veteran, Mr. Ellis, bravely served America, even as he spent a lifetime awaiting atonement related to the Tulsa Race Massacre,” Oklahoma state Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) said in a statement on behalf of the family.

As the Oklahoma Supreme Court prepares to hear their appeal, Massacre descendant Kristi Williams made an appeal of her own.

“The silence from the city is not only deafening but also outrageously appalling. We can no longer accept a situation reminiscent of 1921. On May 13, 2020, Mayor G.T. Bynum, you expressed the city’s commitment to confront the 1921 race massacre that left as many as 300 Black people dead. However, it is disheartening to see descendants like me, who have been on the front lines, feeling unheard and unattended. Where do we go from here?”

The Black Wall Street Times has reached out to Mayor Bynum for a response.

Read the full letter from Massacre descendant Kristi Williams below:

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