Hughes Van Ellis, one of the last three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, died at 102 on Monday, October 9, according to Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Regina Goodwin, who spoke on behalf of his family.
Known affectionately as “Uncle Redd,” Ellis was a WWII war veteran and a symbol of resilience in the face of racial adversity. Goodwin remarked, “He bravely served America, even as he spent a lifetime awaiting atonement related to the Tulsa Race Massacre, which occurred between May 31 and June 1, 1921, when white mobs violently attacked Black residents, destroying over 35 square blocks of the prosperous Greenwood District, known as “Black Wall Street.”
Goodwin, a staunch advocate for reparations for race massacre survivors, emphasized Ellis’ unwavering commitment to the cause. “Two days ago, Mr. Ellis urged us to keep fighting for justice,” Goodwin noted. “In the midst of his death, there remains an undying sense of right and wrong. Mr. Ellis was assured we would remain steadfast, and we repeated to him, his own words, ‘We Are One,’ and we lastly expressed our love.”
Van Ellis leaves behind his sister Viola Fletcher and Lessie Randle as the last known living survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Ellis’ death was deeply mourned by the Diaspora African Forum (DAF), which fondly referred to him as Uncle Redd.
In tribute to his remarkable life and the enduring connection between the African diaspora and their heritage, Van Ellis was granted honorary Ghanaian citizenship. H.E. Dr. Erieka Bennett, Founder and Head of Mission for DAF, and Dr. Toni Luck organized the historic visit of Uncle Redd and Mother Fletcher to Ghana in August 2021. “Mr. Van Ellis’s existence illuminated the indomitable nature of the human spirit amidst overwhelming odds,” Dr. Bennett asserted. “Granting him honorary Ghanaian citizenship was a gesture of profound respect for his enduring legacy.”
Rocky Dawuni, a three-time Grammy nominated singer, songwriter, and record producer, also saluted Van Ellis. “Uncle Red had a larger-than-life presence. Having survived the Tulsa Race Massacre and lived on to a glorious age of 102, his life and story have become part of our collective struggle as a people,” Dawuni stated. “His experiences give us a unique glimpse into what black people had to endure and still have to endure to this day.”