In the spring of 1921, black Oklahomans seeking economic and political equality collided with a white society bent on keeping them down. The result was a devastating attack on the African American quarter of Tulsa called Greenwood, in which hundreds of buildings were destroyed and unknown numbers of people were killed. Legal scholar Alfred Brophy pieces together some of the puzzles surrounding this event, which many Oklahoma officials did their best to hide from history. Indeed, as he remarks, "Tulsa has denied the tragedy for so long that it is easy to forget it ever happened." Brophy examines the role of the police and National Guard in assisting the white attackers, that of the courts in exonerating them and instead attaching blame to the victims, and that of the media in whipping up ethnic hostility. He also asks what can be done, so many years after the fact, to redress past wrongs and "the complete breakdown of the rule of law," and he concludes that reparations are in order. Students of modern American history and of civil rights law will find much to ponder in Brophy's measured account of this shameful episode. --Gregory McNamee
From Library Journal
One of America's bloodiest civil disturbances is also one of its least known. On May 31,1921, Tulsa's African American community of Greenwood was the site of a violent riot that left more than 30 city blocks burned, thousands homeless, and up to 300 dead. Fearing that a young man was going to be lynched for assaulting a young white woman, members of Tulsa's African American community rallied at the courthouse. Seeing the large body of African Americans, some of whom had guns, in their part of town, whites armed themselves with all the weapons they could muster. A hail of fire erupted, and by the next day the National Guard and a mob of hastily deputized white citizens stormed the African American neighborhood of Greenwood, laying it to waste and incarcerating its residents in camps. These two works each seek to clarify what happened, but they take quite different approaches. Law professor Brophy served on the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, which was charged with determining exactly what happened and whether survivors should receive restitution. His book reflects his work on the commission, focusing on the legal issues surrounding the incident. He asserts that the riot was government-assisted and as such that the victims and their heirs are due compensation. This work fits very well into the growing national debate on reparations. Hirsch, the author of the best-selling Hurricane, seeks a broader audience in his book, which emphasizes events following the riot, including the thwarted attempts to rebuild Greenwood and how Tulsa and Oklahoma sought to come to terms with the riot. Although different in tone and approach, both books are very solid in their research and writing. Each is highly recommended, although Brophy's account will appeal to the more serious reader. Daniel Liestman, Florida Gulf Coast Univ., Ft. Myers
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