This book is about the horrific, yet little known 1921 Tulsa race riot. The 100th anniversary of this tragedy and reflections on it reminded me about a book that I’ve had on my to-read list.
I first heard about this incident while reading Sam Anderson’s Boom Town, about the founding and growth of Oklahoma City. It briefly mentioned the Tulsa riot and how a white mob had destroyed an entire African American neighborhood.
Eager to learn more, I searched for a book about these riots… but then never followed up reading about them.
Set against a tapestry of racism, violence and resentment, this was a tinderbox waiting to explode (and these sorts of race riots had broken out in other parts of the country around this time as well).
I couldn’t believe the violence that was carried out, simply to put “black people in their place.” Looking at photos of the aftermath, the level of destruction is akin to photos of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Nothing is left standing. Thousands of houses destroyed, hundreds (!) of people dead.
And yet, the story was swept under the rug. It literally took decades before people started talking about it and publicly acknowledging that it happened.
My biggest takeaway was how easy it was for us human to become straight up barbaric animals when blinded by hatred.
Toward the later half of the book, the story recounts a young journalist who visited an internment center where people fleeing the violence (or were captured) were sent.
She found an older black woman crying, because she lost everything and had no idea where her family was. Eventually, the reporter asked, “how could this happen?”
“How could this not happen?” replied the old black woman.