It was 100 years ago this June that one of the most prosperous Black communities in the nation was devastated by an outright massacre---right here in Oklahoma. The Greenwood District in Tulsa was dubbed “Black Wall Street,” a place where Black business owners could go for capital and Black families thrived. Keeping the memory of that community and its destruction alive is vital for a full understanding of the history of the state.
So we’re asking you, our listeners, to join us in better educating ourselves about it through the new KGOU Readers Club. We’ve selected four books by authors with Oklahoma ties, intended to enlighten us about what happened a century ago. We’ve included one meant for a younger audience to foster discussion among families, too.
In May KGOU will host weekly live radio shows highlighting the authors of these books, discussing their messages, and addressing your questions. More information will be forthcoming, but for now, start reading. Along the way you can contact me with any questions or comments at email@example.com.
Join us in reading one or all of these titles:
Fire in Beulah by Rilla Askew
From the author: "I began researching and writing Fire in Beulah in the early 1990s when information about the massacre was still hard to come by. The story was not a part of the national narrative, or the state narrative, or Tulsa's narrative even. Of course I wanted to uncover the truth of what happened, illuminate the facts, tell why it happened in that place at that time. I also wanted to portray, from the inside, the sort of white prejudice, privilege, and presumption that gave fuel to the massacre.
"Most readers will distance themselves from the overt race hatred of Klansmen and white rioters. More difficult is to recognize and own the layers of white presumption and privilege that are the inheritance of white Americans."
Tulsa, 1921: Reporting a Massacre by Randy Krehbiel
From the OU Press:
In 1921 Tulsa’s Greenwood District, known then as the nation’s “Black Wall Street,” was one of the most prosperous African American communities in the United States. But on May 31 of that year, a white mob, inflamed by rumors that a young Black man had attempted to rape a white teenage girl, invaded Greenwood. By the end of the following day, thousands of homes and businesses lay in ashes, and perhaps as many as three hundred people were dead.
Tulsa, 1921 shines new light into the shadows that have long been cast over this extraordinary instance of racial violence. With the clarity and descriptive power of a veteran journalist, author Randy Krehbiel digs deep into the events and their aftermath and investigates decades-old questions about the local culture at the root of what one writer has called a white-led pogrom.
Krehbiel analyzes local newspaper accounts in an unprecedented effort to gain insight into the minds of contemporary Tulsans. In the process he considers how the Tulsa World, the Tulsa Tribune, and other publications contributed to the circumstances that led to the disaster and helped solidify enduring white justifications for it.
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History by Karlos Hill
From the OU Press:
This richly illustrated volume, featuring more than 175 photographs, along with oral testimonies, shines a new spotlight on the race massacre from the vantage point of its victims and survivors.
Historian and Black Studies professor Karlos K. Hill presents a range of photographs taken before, during, and after the massacre, mostly by white photographers. Some of the images are published here for the first time. Comparing these photographs to those taken elsewhere in the United States of lynchings, the author makes a powerful case for terming the 1921 outbreak not a riot but a massacre. White civilians, in many cases assisted or condoned by local and state law enforcement, perpetuated a systematic and coordinated attack on Black Tulsans and their property.
Despite all the violence and devastation, black Tulsans rebuilt the Greenwood District brick by brick. By the mid-twentieth century, Greenwood had reached a new zenith, with nearly 250 Black-owned and Black-operated businesses. Today the citizens of Greenwood, with support from the broader community, continue to work diligently to revive the neighborhood once known as “Black Wall Street.” As a result, Hill asserts, the most important legacy of the Tulsa Race Massacre is the grit and resilience of the Black survivors of racist violence.
Opal’s Greenwood Oasis by Najah Hylton and Quraysh Ali Lansana
The year is 1921, and Opal Brown would like to show you around her beautiful neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Filled with busy stores and happy families, Opal also wants you to know that “everyone looks like me.”
In both words and illustrations, this carefully researched and historically accurate book allows children to experience the joys and success of Greenwood, one of the most prosperous Black communities of the early 20th Century, an area Booker T. Washington dubbed America’s Black Wall Street.