The Week (US)
The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice
Scott Ellsworth’s riveting new book “presents us with a chance for atonement for one of our darkest hours as a nation,” said Jeff Rowe in the Associated Press. The historian, a white Tulsa native, helped spark an overdue national conversation nearly 40 years ago when he published Death in a Promised Land, a detailed account of Tulsa’s 1921 race massacre. He has returned to the subject to examine the cover-up that followed. Many basic facts about the twoday pogrom remain elusive; “how many were killed may never be known.” But on May 31, 1921, the city’s Greenwood district was one of the most prosperous Black neighborhoods in America. Over the next two days, thousands of white Oklahomans participated in a rampage that left bulletriddled bodies on the streets and burned the 35-block district to the ground.
“Ellsworth grabs the reader’s attention early in the book with his portrait of the district,” said Keisha Blain in The Washington Post. Tulsa in 1921 was the oil capital of the world, and Greenwood, “America’s Black Wall Street,” was a vibrant community that nurtured Black economic power. The violence began with an attempt to lynch a 19-year-old Black shoeshiner on “the flimsiest of excuses,” said Stuart Miller in the Los Angeles Times. Armed Black war veterans gathered outside Tulsa’s courthouse to defend him, and after a first shot was fired, a rolling nighttime battle ensued. When the sun rose, the assault escalated,