A chilling re-creation of the worst instance of racial violence in US history—the 1921 destruction by rampaging whites of a black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Journalist Madigan (See No Evil, not reviewed) believes the Tulsa riot deserves a more prominent place in the ugly history of racial conflict—and his diligent research and graceful writing will certainly help. He begins on June 1, 1921, with the memories of a little girl. Her mother woke her with a scream: “The white people are killing the colored folks!” And so they were. Before the day ended, the white mob burned 35 square blocks of Greenwood (virtually the entire community), murdered as many as 300 blacks (many did not escape their flaming homes), arrested hundreds more, and drove into the hills thousands of black citizens whose slow procession northward would in the 20th century become an all-too-common image. Two planes flew overhead, firing down into the black crowds. Many had fought back with every weapon at their disposal (dozens of whites died by gunshot, too), but they were outnumbered and out-gunned by whites who broke into hardware stores to steal firearms and ammunition. What had happened? Greenwood was a “model” community—a peaceful, prosperous (though entirely segregated) neighborhood whose residents for the most part worked for white employers. The author uses multiple points of view to capture the dimensions of the tragedy. It began when a young white woman, an elevator operator, falsely accused a young black man of assaulting her. Many whites resolved to lynch the man; many blacks resolved to prevent the lynching. Both groups were armed, and when they clashed outside the courthouse, the wheels of tragedy were set in motion. Madigan follows his riveting account of the violence with the sordid story of denial and cover-up that ensued.
A sobering, frightening account of what happens when that foul beast, racism, breaks its fragile leash. (16 pp. b&w photographs, not seen)