Brandy Colbert, acclaimed author of teen fiction, turns her seamless storytelling skills to the “story and legacy” of Tulsa’s thriving Greenwood District, a.k.a. America’s Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Colbert opens with a chapter on Oklahoma’s history, focusing on the Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears, discovery of oil, and all-Black freedmen’s towns that were established after the end of slavery. This history sets the stage for the ways Black Oklahomans found to “not only survive but also thrive” as Reconstruction transitioned into the era of Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and lynchings. Colbert cleverly interweaves these chapters with a day-by-day account of May 30 to June 1, 1921, so that readers understand the events in Tulsa within a broader historical context. For example, the “Red Summer” of 1919 saw more than three dozen “race riots,” an indicator of escalating racial violence and white fear that spread to Tulsa and planted the seeds for the Greenwood massacre. Colbert also argues that, along with an alleged assault of a white woman by a young Black man on May 30, “jealousy and resentment cannot be overlooked as significant motivators” leading to the destruction of Greenwood and the deaths of dozens of its residents. Well-placed, pertinent sidebars add depth to Colbert’s coverage of people and events (e.g., Ida B. Wells-Barnett), especially as they relate to the history of violence against Black Americans.
THOUGHTS: June 1, 2021, marked the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and a number of books for young readers have been released to commemorate the too-little-known event. Among the best is Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert.
976 American History Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD