2021 National Book Award Longlist
2022 Carnegie Medal Nonfiction Longlist
One of The New York Times' “11 New Books We Recommend This Week” | One of Oprah Daily's “20 of the Best Books to Pick Up This May” | One of The Oklahoman's “15 Books to Help You Learn About the Tulsa Race Massacre as the 100-Year Anniversary Approaches” |A The Week book of the week
As seen in documentaries on the History Channel, CNN, and Lebron James’s SpringHill Productions
And then they were gone.
More than one thousand homes and businesses. Restaurants and movie theaters, churches and doctors’ offices, a hospital, a public library, a post office. Looted, burned, and bombed from the air.
Over the course of less than twenty-four hours in the spring of 1921, Tulsa’s infamous “Black Wall Street” was wiped off the map—and erased from the history books. Official records were disappeared, researchers were threatened, and the worst single incident of racial violence in American history was kept hidden for more than fifty years. But there were some secrets that would not die.
A riveting and essential new book, The Ground Breaking not only tells the long-suppressed story of the notorious Tulsa race massacre. It also unearths the lost history of how the massacre was covered up, and of the courageous individuals who fought to keep the story alive. Most important, it recounts the ongoing archaeological saga and the search for the unmarked graves of the victims of the massacre, and of the fight to win restitution for the survivors and their families.
Both a forgotten chronicle from the nation’s past and a story ripped from today’s headlines, The Ground Breaking is a page-turning reflection on how we, as Americans, must wrestle with the parts of our history that have been buried for far too long.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This essential book sheds a light on one of the darkest secrets in American history. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Scott Ellsworth walks us through a brutally in-depth study of the chilling race massacre that took place there on May 31, 1921. Tulsa’s Greenwood district was predominantly Black and was so affluent it was known as Black Wall Street. But when a white woman was supposedly threatened by a Black man, that single unconfirmed incident became an inflection point for the racism smoldering in other parts of town, leading to one of the most deadly and most shocking acts of mass violence in American history. But there wasn’t just one crime associated with that day. The erasure of this atrocity from history was the second. Ellsworth’s descriptions of growing up near the scene of this horror but never reading about it in a classroom or newspaper are infuriating. His research unfolds like a detective story as he meets survivors and journalists who uncover the long-forgotten details. He even finds the unmarked graves of victims, whose stories—thanks to books like this—will finally be told.
Historian Ellsworth (Death in a Promised Land) delivers a riveting investigation into the origins and aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. A native Tulsan, Ellsworth served on the 1997 commission that recommended reparations for the survivors of the massacre and their descendants. He recreates the attack on Greenwood, the city's thriving African American district, in meticulous and harrowing detail, describing how white rioters marched through the neighborhood shooting residents and looting stores while planes dropped incendiary bombs from overhead. Ellsworth also delves into modern-day efforts to locate the mass graves where victims are believed to have been buried; debunks rumors that the riot was planned (its spark, he contends, were accusations that a Black teenager had sexually assaulted a white girl); and notes the removal of photographs and newspaper articles from historical archives, and other efforts by Tulsa's white establishment to obscure the deaths of as many as 300 Black people and the displacement of 10,000 others. Interviews with survivors and reflections on the debate over reparations and the social, economic, and racial divisions of modern-day Tulsa add depth to Ellsworth's portrait of a community attempting to heal from an unimaginable injustice. This eloquent, deeply moving history isn't to be missed.