“A powerful book, a harrowing case study made all the more so by Madigan's skillful, clear-eyed telling of it.” —Adam Nossiter, The New York Times Book Review
On the morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob numbering in the thousands marched across the railroad tracks dividing black from white in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and obliterated a black community then celebrated as one of America's most prosperous. 34 square blocks of Tulsa's Greenwood community, known then as the Negro Wall Street of America, were reduced to smoldering rubble.
And now, 80 years later, the death toll of what is known as the Tulsa Race Riot is more difficult to pinpoint. Conservative estimates put the number of dead at about 100 (75% of the victims are believed to have been black), but the actual number of casualties could be triple that. The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, formed two years ago to determine exactly what happened, has recommended that restitution to the historic Greenwood Community would be good public policy and do much to repair the emotional as well as physical scars of this most terrible incident in our shared past.
With chilling details, humanity, and the narrative thrust of compelling fiction, The Burning will recreate the town of Greenwood at the height of its prosperity, explore the currents of hatred, racism, and mistrust between its black residents and neighboring Tulsa's white population, narrate events leading up to and including Greenwood's annihilation, and document the subsequent silence that surrounded the tragedy.
In 1921 in Tulsa, Okla., hundreds of black residents of the prosperous Greenwood community were massacred by a mob of white townspeople. Madigan, a reporter with the Fort Worth Star Telegram, deftly locates the carnage in its proper political and cultural setting. Unlike previous accounts, this one shows how the riot touched individual lives by creating full-scale portraits of black and white citizens of oil-rich Tulsa. He fashions absorbing narratives from his interviews with survivors and from information uncovered by the 1997 Tulsa Race Riot Commission. Individual voices combine to relate the tragic chain of events, the madness and atmosphere of hate that compelled the white mob to torch almost every building in Greenwood. The earnest Sheriff McCullough worried about vigilantes running amok; the racist publisher Richard Lloyd Jones sought to sell newspapers by appealing to white bias; the defiant ex-slave Townsend Jackson refused to comply with Jim Crow laws; and the hapless Dick Rowland's arrest for accidentally bumping into a white girl triggers the slaughter. Madigan's skill at description, dialogue and pacing keeps the reader's interest at peak levels, and he does not gloss over brutal scenes of murder, arson and torture. Many other accounts have ignored the strong resistance of many Greenwood blacks against white marauders. Madigan draws implicit connections between one of the bloodiest racial atrocities in U.S. history and today's racial climate by concluding his timely history lesson with an update of the Tulsa commission findings and the city's move toward healing and reconciliation. 16 pages b&w photos not seen by PW.
The Burning: Tulsa Race Riots of 1921
Truly amazing how American History that's being taught doesn't include these nuggets of truth. Instead of teaching TRUTH, it's completely distorted and one-sided. This place will never be right until it does right by the people who were annihilated by racism, jealousy, and greed.