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Tue, 01.11.1921

Hughes Van Ellis, Soldier, and Activist born.

Hughes Van Ellis

*Hughes Van Ellis was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black Soldier, mechanic, and survivor of one of the most extensive racial holocaust episodes in America.  

Van Ellis was born in Holdenville, Okla., and was not yet five months old at the time of the Tulsa Massacre, after which his parents fled Tulsa with their six children, leaving their home and possessions. Approximately 300 Black residents died, and Ellis' family was one among thousands who were left unhoused after the mob destroyed the homes, businesses, churches, schools, and even a Black-owned hospital in Greenwood. With nothing but the clothes, they had on their backs when they fled to safety.

The family grew to eight children. He and his wife, Mable V. Ellis, were married in 1942, eventually settling in Oklahoma City. He was drafted and served in an all-black combat unit in World War II. After the war, Ellis worked as a sharecropper, as a mechanic at what is now Tinker Air Force Base, and as a janitor, a gardener, and a gas station attendant. He and his wife had seven children and settled in Denver; his wife died in 2011. 

Known as "Uncle Red," he was among those who fought the city of Tulsa, Tulsa County, the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, and the state of Oklahoma for massacre reparations. Among those seeking was Ellis' 109-year-old sister, Viola Fletcher. Their yearslong struggle for reparations went as far as the U.S. Congress, where Ellis and Fletcher testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee in 2021. Hughes Van Ellis died on October 9, 2023, in Denver. He was 102. His death at a veterans' hospital was from cancer that had recently spread to his brain. As of his death, their fight for justice is still ongoing.

Reference:

NPR.org

AP News.com

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