Viola Fletcher (108-year-old) and her brother Van Ellis (101-year-old), in matching attire and pictured during their Ghana citizenship ceremony at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC / © Embassy of Ghana, DC
In a ceremony Tuesday at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, two of the last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre received citizenship of the Republic of Ghana, where they had previously been crowned Ghanaian royalty.
The two survivors — Viola Fletcher, 108, and her brother Hughes Van Ellis, 102 — sat in golden print robes in the front row at the ceremony, where they were serenaded with drumming, dancing and a ballad: “Welcome home. You’ve been kept down for much too long. Don’t forget you are welcome home.”
Fletcher and Ellis were children when a White mob descended on the all-Black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa on May 31, 1921, destroying one of the country’s most prosperous Black communities. When the massacre ended, as many as 300 Black people had been killed, and a 35-square-block area of Greenwood was destroyed.
Fletcher and Ellis visited Ghana in 2021, on the centennial of the massacre, one of the worst incidents of racist terror violence committed against Black Americans. During that visit, they were given royal Ghanaian names: Ellis was crowned a chief and called Bio Lantey, and Fletcher was crowned a queen mother and named Naa Lameley, meaning a strong person who stands the test of time.
On their trip, they also met Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, who approved the process for granting them Ghanaian citizenship and gave Fletcher a plot of land in the capital, Accra.
Akufo-Addo had issued an invitation to members of the African diaspora to visit Ghana to mark the “Year of Return,” commemorating 400 years since the first Africans arrived in the Virginia colony. “This country is your country, and anyone who wants to come to reestablish, connect with us here, is welcome,” Akufo-Addo said in 2021.
After that meeting, Akufo-Addo told reporters that he recognized Fletcher and Ellis’s resilience in surviving the Tulsa massacre.“They lived to tell the story,” he said.
At the embassy on Tuesday, the survivors completed the citizenship process by swearing an oath of allegiance and signing certification documents.
Hajia Alima Mahama, Ghana’s first female ambassador to the United States, explained to the crowd that Fletcher and Ellis would become dual citizens. “I now invite Queen Mother Naa Lameley Viola Fletcher to take the oath of allegiance,” she said.
Fletcher repeated the oath quietly, with her grandson Ike Howard at her side echoing each word loudly:
“I swear solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithfully bear true allegiance to the Republic of Ghana and I will preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the Republic of Ghana, so help me God.”
The crowd rose in applause.
Next, her brother took the oath, repeating each word in a strong voice. When he completed the oath, he waved a small Ghanaian flag.
Then they both signed the certificate of citizenship and signified completion of the document with thumbprints.
“I feel like a king,” Ellis said. “It is an honor and privilege to be a member of Ghana.”
Ibrahim Mohammed Awal, Ghana’s minister for tourism, arts and culture, welcomed Fletcher and Ellis to the West African nation. “Queen Mother and uncle, you are more than beautiful. Let me bring you greetings from the Republic of Ghana,” Mohammed said. “We want you to use this ceremony to look back to your roots.”
Mohammed proclaimed Fletcher and Ellis “100 percent Ghanaian,” as the crowd stood for the Ghanaian national anthem.
When Oklahoma state Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa), whose district includes Greenwood, first met Fletcher, “Mrs. Fletcher kept saying, ‘I want to see Africa,’” Goodwin recalled.
In the weeks following the centennial commemoration events in Tulsa, Our Black Truth, a Virginia-based social media company founded by brothers Michael Thompson and Eric Thompson, offered Fletcher, Ellis and their children and grandchildren an all-expenses paid trip to Ghana. The Diaspora African Forum, an African Union-sanctioned nonprofit in Accra established to unite people in the African diaspora, co-sponsored the trip.
During the eight-day journey, Fletcher and Ellis attended more than 19 events, according to Our Black Truth spokesperson Tony Regusters. They met with Ghanaian tribal chiefs and placed the names of deceased family members on the Sankofa Wall, a memorial inscribed with the names of hundreds of people from the African diaspora.
They visited the dungeon at Osu Castle, where thousands of Africans were held captive before being shipped across the Atlantic into enslavement. Throughout the trip, they rode in a presidential motorcade, with a police escort. They had dinner on the same shores from which many African ancestors were taken.
Ninette Danquah Ivo, Minister at the Ghanian Embassy, told Fletcher on Tuesday: “You are a formidable woman. It is a privilege to be in your presence this morning.”
The ceremony was attended by royalty from Ghana, including Eze Dr. Chukwudi Ihenetu, the paramount king of the Igbo community in Ghana. Also in attendance were Rocky Dawuni, a Grammy-nominated Ghanaian musician, and AJ Akua Johnson, a Hollywood actress who is now a Ghanaian citizen.
Erieka Bennett, founder and head of mission of the Diaspora African Forum, told the embassy audience: “You are not an African because you were born in Africa. You are an African when Africa is born in you.”
“When we talk about the ‘diaspora,’ we talk about remembering folks that have been spread far and wide from their motherland,” Goodwin told the crowd during the ceremony. “If somebody can ‘dis-member’ us, separate us, we can re-member us. And that matters. That is what we are doing today.”