Cover photo for Hughes Van Ellis Sr.'s Obituary
1921 Survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre 2023

Hughes Van Ellis Sr.

January 11, 1921 — October 9, 2023

We celebrate the life and times of Hughes V. Ellis, Sr., 102 years of age, Denver, Colorado.

Hughes was an international pillar for justice, wisdom, truth, Godly faith, and love. He was one of the leading proponents of justice for Greenwood and the youngest survivor of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Affectionately known as “Mr. Red”, “Grandpa”, and “Uncle Redd”, Hughes was born in Holdenville, OK, on January 11th, 1921 to Henry Ellis and Lucinda Davis Ellis. The Ellis family lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma before the May 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. As a toddler, he suffered the traumatic experience of being swept up and loaded onto a wagon to escape impending death. After living through this horrendous event of life-long impact, the family traveled to other Oklahoma cities and towns seeking work and a sense of belonging and economic stability. The family also ventured to Kansas and labored as sharecroppers for white farm owners.

At the age of 17, Hughes sang in a gospel quartet, the ‘Oklahoma Jubilee’, for approximately one year, traveling throughout Oklahoma. He worked as a hotel bellman, waiter, baker, and ice cream maker. It was during his visit to Cushing, Oklahoma that Hughes met and married Mable Vivian Withers (deceased) on August 2, 1942. Hughes joined the segregated US Army in 1943 at Cushing, Oklahoma. While he was on active duty traveling to Mumbai (Bombay), Calcutta and Saipan, Mable and first-born son, Hughes V. Ellis, Jr. (deceased), remained in Cushing, Oklahoma. Hughes was a Technical Sergeant, 234th AAA Gun Battalion and was assigned to Island Sweep to capture Japanese soldiers. He received a Bronze Star and the Ruptured Duck medal.

Due to his inability to complete his education prior to joining the Army, Hughes attended Douglass High School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and graduated with a diploma in General Education in August 1951. Following graduation, Hughes was hired as a B-52 Aircraft Engine Mechanic at Tinker Air Force Base. Mable and Hughes were blessed with 6 more children before he retired from Tinker in 1976. 

While at Tinker, he also worked evenings and weekends as a plumber’s helper, landscaper, gardener, janitor, painter, flooring helper, auto mechanic, and security guard.  After retirement, Hughes moved his younger family members to Denver, Colorado to join the eldest daughters Malee and Muriel who had completed degrees at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado. Hughes and Mable joined Cure D’Ars Catholic Church in July 1981 and were active members.

Upon moving to Denver, Hughes worked as a stadium concession worker, security guard, grocery store warehouse worker, and retail store employee. He made many friends among co-workers of all ethnic groups. Hughes retired at the tender age of 86 years to take care of his wife, Mable, who suffered from failing health.

 Hughes’ more recent endeavors took him to Ghana, Africa and major US cities to support social justice, increase awareness and seek atonement for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.  He traveled to Tulsa on numerous occasions for court hearings, memorials, and commemoration ceremonies in pursuit of justice. Hughes held on to hope and faith that someday he would overcome the discriminatory treatment that denied Black people equal opportunities for advancement. 

When Hughes was identified as a Tulsa Race Massacre survivor, he welcomed the opportunity to dedicate his time, energy, and efforts to this worthy cause. He worked relentlessly to participate in all engagements regardless of location. In the last few years, Hughes appeared in twenty-five plus viral videos for his work in restorative justice. In May 2021 Hughes provided passionate testimony before the US Congress with tears in his eyes and hope in his heart stating, “I still believe in America”, even after all the segregation and racism he experienced throughout his life.   In the same year, he received many awards, commendation letters and participated in local, state, and national interviews. Hughes met and received a personal letter from President Joseph Biden and was gifted with the Seal of Office from Vice President Kamala Harris. He was recognized by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dat P. Tran. State recognition included a Human Spirit Award from the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, Chair, Rep. Regina Goodwin, a personal visit from United States State Senator Michael Bennet, Colorado, and a proclamation from Mayor Michael B. Hancock, City and County of Denver.  Hughes received international recognition from Ghanaian and Nigerian Tribes for his participation and support of African diaspora mutually beneficial activities based on unity, love, and brotherhood.  Hughes was presented with a Certificate of Chieftaincy Title and recognized as “IKE OHE NDI IGBO” (THE STRENGTH OF THE IGBO’S).

 

At home in Denver, Colorado, Hughes was a member and officer of the Knights of Peter Claver (KPC) , Denver, Colorado, Council #261, Cure D’Ars Catholic Church, since 2011. He was the oldest Council member and was straightforward when he provided input on KPC business. Last summer, Hughes received honorable mention at the 107th Annual Senior National Convention of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary at New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Hughes met trial and tribulation with his rare, indomitable spirit.  His zest for living was felt in every family gathering and each person he met. Today, his courage is infused in hearts, minds and souls and his fight moves us forward.

Hughes and Mable were married for 67 glorious years.  Preceding him in death was wife, Mable V. Ellis, son, Hughes V. Ellis, Jr, and daughter, Mattilynn J. Mitchell (Ronald). He is survived by his daughters (caregivers) Malee V. Craft, Aurora, Colorado, and Muriel Ellis Watson, Denver, Colorado.  He is also survived by his sons Tommie W. Ellis, Harold D. Ellis and Harlos D. Ellis, all of Denver, Colorado. Hughes leaves nine grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren and a host of other family members and friends to cherish his memory.

The love, care, and perseverance of Mr. Hughes Van Ellis, Sr. will be solely missed by family, friends and all fortunate enough to come into his presence. We thank God for blessing us with such a great family man, friend, and crusader for social justice.  Mr. Hughes Van Ellis, Sr. demonstrated the best in humanity, and bravely offered hope for a just and unified America.  His motto was and remains,

“WE ARE ONE!” The fight for justice is not done.

 

The repast will be held immediately after the Saturday Service at Cure D’Ars Catholic Church.  It will be held at New Hope Baptist Church, Family Life Center, 3701 Colorado Blvd, Denver, Colorado 80205

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Hughes Van Ellis Sr., please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Christian Rosary

Friday, October 27, 2023

4:00 - 5:00 pm (Mountain time)

Pipkin Braswell Funeral Home & Cremation

6601 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80220

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Visitation

Friday, October 27, 2023

5:00 - 7:00 pm (Mountain time)

Pipkin Braswell Funeral Home & Cremation

6601 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80220

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Mass

Saturday, October 28, 2023

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Mountain time)

Cure D Ars Catholic Church

3201 Dahlia St, Denver, CO 80207

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Reception

Saturday, October 28, 2023

1:30 - 3:30 pm (Mountain time)

In The family life center

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Interment

Monday, October 30, 2023

1:30 - 2:30 pm (Mountain time)

Fort Logan National Cemetery

4400 W Kenyon Ave, Denver, CO 80236

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