The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice

Dutton. May 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780593182987. $28. HIST
In 1921, Greenwood, an affluent Black neighborhood in Tulsa, was destroyed by mobs of white Oklahomans. Ellsworth tells the story of the massacre and Tulsa’s efforts to reckon with its history. While researching the massacre for his 1992 book (Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921), Ellsworth found that primary sources were hard to come by: official records had been purged, and survivors had been discouraged from speaking about their experiences. After the publication of Death in a Promised Land, Tulsa began a reckoning process that further exposed racial tensions in the city, particularly among residents who would have preferred to keep parts of Tulsa’s history hidden. Ellsworth served on the city’s reckoning commission, and in this book he details his and others’ work to locate the graves of people who died in the massacre and engage the community to tell the massacre’s painful stories. As the search for the dead extends to the present day, Ellsworth briefly reflects on current race relations in Tulsa.
VERDICT A thoughtful exploration of the importance of collective memory. It is particularly poignant as 2021 marks the centennial of the massacre. A must-read for all who are interested in how history continues to impact the present.
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