Try as one might to disguise and forget the shameful events of the past, murder will out. So James Hirsch, author of the acclaimed book Hurricane
, shows in this careful examination of a particularly shameful episode in modern American history. On the evening of May 31, 1921, fueled by rumors and newspaper headlines charging that a young black man had assaulted a young white women, a mob of armed white citizens burned much of the predominantly African American Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the ground. More than 35, and as many as 300, Tulsans died, most of them black. Tulsa's city fathers did all they could to keep the news of this mass lynching from spreading; they found convenient scapegoats (including a blameless but prominent African American businessman) and went about excising mention of the Greenwood affair from official documents. Yet the memory of the crime lived on, and Hirsch's narrative shows how modern Tulsans translated that memory into justice--or at least the possibility thereof.
A remarkable book on an astonishing incident too long overlooked, Riot and Remembrance tells us that history does not always belong to the victors, and that the past is never truly forgotten. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
"But our boys who had learned their lesson/ On the blood-stained soil of France/ How to fight on the defensive/ Proposed not to take a chance." This rousing piece of verse is not a post-WWI veterans' drinking song but a poem recounting African-American resistance to a white riot ignited when blacks banded together to stop a 1921 Tulsa, Okla., lynching. But despite the bravery displayed, the riot, which was the worst in U.S. history, was a cataclysmic event in which the entire prosperous black neighborhood of Greenwood 1,256 homes, churches, stores, schools, hospitals and a library was looted and burned to the ground, while three hundred people were killed and the black residents were finally forced at gunpoint into detention centers. Even more shocking is that the event has been virtually wiped from history with newspaper accounts, police records and state militia records destroyed. Hirsch's reconstruction of this history, which reads as a horrifying narrative, is illuminating and grim. Relying on oral histories, investigative journalism, court and archival records as well as published memoirs and government reports, Hirsch (Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Hurricane Carter) paints a complex portrait of a prosperous city where oil was discovered in 1901 and where African-Americans had obtained some degree of economic and cultural independence in a state with an already troubled history of racial tension. Political organizing by the International Workers of the World in 1917 had set the stage for social unrest; veteran status gave black men a new identity after WWI. Hirsch unearths an important episode in U.S. history with verve, intelligence and compassion. (Feb.)Forecast: This book may not hit bestseller lists, but it could be shortlisted for awards. The fight for economic compensation to Greenwood's victims can be related to the larger current struggle for reparations for African-Americans.
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