Being a new resident of Tulsa I was hoping to find a good background of the race riots that have divided our city. This book was OK. Brophy definitely has done his research as evidenced by overwhelming citations to court cases and testimonies.
But I feel like the drama of the riot wasn’t captured; it felt like the event was just reported. I learned quite a bit about the causes and the locations and when I drive around downtown I can picture the events happening. There was also a photo essay chapter which I really appreciated. But it just didn’t grab me.
I’m sure a visit to the Race Riot museum will help fill in some gaps. And while I appreciate the amount of research that was poured in to this book, it didn’t quite meet my expectations.
BOTTOM LINE: I liked it, I learned a lot from it, but I doubt I would recommend it (except for the photo essay chapter).
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