It took Viola Fletcher 107 years to become a “queen mother.”
The honorary designation was a gift from Ghana on her recent visit there. This year, the West African nation continued reaching across seas to encourage diaspora descendants to come home during a “Year of Return,” marking 400 years since enslaved Africans began arriving in what’s now Virginia.
Ms. Fletcher – and her centenarian brother, Hughes Van Ellis, who traveled with her – share another anniversary: the 100th of the Tulsa race massacre in late May. (Listen to the Monitor’s podcast about that long-shrouded event, in which white residents laid waste to a thriving Black district called Greenwood, and about how the Oklahoma city has worked to recover.)
Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Van Ellis are among the oldest known survivors of the massacre. They testified about the event before Congress this summer. The special treatment they were accorded in Accra – titles, motorcades, citizenship, a land grant – was linked to their remarkable resilience.
“They lived to tell the story,” Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana’s president, told reporters, according to The Washington Post. (The Monitor is now leaning in on stories of deep resolve with another major effort: Finding Resilience.)
The trip by Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Van Ellis, facilitated by a U.S. nonprofit and an African Union-sanctioned bridge-building organization, was also a reclamation of heritage, a manifestation of cultural pride.
“They used to speak of Greenwood as ‘Little Africa,’” Oklahoma state Rep. Regina Goodwin of Tulsa told the Post. “Some White folks thought they were being disparaging. ... Yet, that was a great compliment. Africa is the cradle of civilization and a continent of intellect and soul. There is a connection. These survivors were able to see Africa.”