109-year-old survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre pens new book, speaks at King Center

At 109 years old, Viola “Mother” Fletcher is the oldest living survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 10:39 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - At 109 years old, Viola “Mother” Fletcher is the oldest living survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. At the time of the riots, she was just 7 years old.

“A person my age was wondering what was happening,” Fletcher said. “People running, falling. Dead. Houses burning. We could smell smoke and see the flames.”

It happened in Greenwood, a vibrant neighborhood in Northern Tulsa which was home to hundreds of black-owned businesses. They all burned to the ground during the riot, killing hundreds of African Americans and leaving thousands more homeless.

In an effort to educate and preserve history, Mother Fletcher and her grandson Ike Howard co-authored a book titled Don’t Let Them Bury My Story.

“We definitely want to leave an impactful statement on the world,” Howard said. “For a long time, she wouldn’t talk about it. She started having nightmares and I would ask her Granny what’s wrong while I was growing up in her household. She’d start to tell me about it, but she’d forbid me to tell anyone else about it.”

Howard said eventually his grandmother decided the world needed to know the truth about what happened in Oklahoma during the summer of 1921.

On Tuesday night Mother Fletcher and Howard discussed the book, and history, during a talk at The King Center in downtown Atlanta. It was hosted by Monica Kaufman Pearson and Dr. Bernice A. King.

“I hope as (people) leave here and they will share, because that’s the one thing her story is about! Not burying it. I want people to share,” King said.

In her book, Mother Fletcher also voices the importance of preserving these narratives as they serve to illuminate the path toward justice and equity. She told the crowd that if she can write a book at 109 years old, so can they. She encouraged everyone to tell their own stories.