The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan and Hilary Beard

The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan and Hilary Beard

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 32. A book that intimidates you

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 11. A book with less than 2022 Goodreads ratings, 17. A book based on its spine, 24. Addresses a specific topic, 26. Has an “Author’s Note”, 39. A middle grade novel, 50. A person of color as the main character

Tons and tons of prompt options for this one, but I picked it up last week with the intention of using it as my book that intimidates me: not because of the length or complexity (as you can see I actually picked up the young reader’s edition anyways) but because of the really heavy subject matter. And heavy it was.

Tulsa and Black Wall Street weren’t even in my field of vision until Trump tried to hold a rally there maybe one, two years ago? I remember the (very justified) cries of outrage, and learning that there had be a massacre there…which in and of itself was not knowledge I had up to that point. This book really opened my eyes to just how horrible the Tulsa Race Massacre was, and shed some interesting light on why I never knew it existed in the first place. It takes you from the events leading up to it, explaining Black Wall Street and how it came to be in the wake of emancipation, through all the atrocities of the “riot”, why it was covered up and forgotten, and all the way to today and discussion of reparations.

How can we heal if we don’t know what we’re healing from?

Madigan 258

This line, coming from the author’s note, is among my favorite in the book. This accurately describes why I wanted to read it in the first place. I saw the spine in Gibson’s and picked it up, and after reading the description, I knew it was really required reading for me. I’m pro-reparations to begin with, but I don’t think you can truly know how to help, how to do better, until you know what happened and where the pain comes from. This was a really hard book to read; I took a lot of breaks and cried several times, but overall, this is important and I’m so, so glad I read it. This should really be required reading in high schools!

Additionally, on that note, I want to explain my reasoning for picking up the young reader’s edition. At almost 22 (by the time you read this, I will have been 22 nearly a month anyways!), it’s not that I need the content “dumbed-down” – but I do like and appreciate how any young reader’s edition takes complex ideas and compresses them, or removes content that isn’t deemed essential information. It’s a bite sized piece of a whole pie. I don’t think I could have made it through Tim Madigan’s original publication, both for its length and its emotional weight. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anyone, whether you’re 18 or 68, picking up a young reader’s edition to get a “taste” of the original story and content. If you’re inspired by this “taste” of the story, you can always pick up the full edition! For me, it’s meant to inspire further reading or research.

As sad as this book can be, as there’s obviously a lot of death and suffering, there’s also such an incredible sense of determination and resilience that cannot be ignored. It was one of the most redeeming parts of the reading, the aha moment, even if it never truly ended “happily” for the people of Greenwood, or their descendents. That sense of resilience, I think, is meant to be one of the main takeaways of the book.

Towards the end, as Black Wall Street is being rebuilt in a matter of months (yes, MONTHS), I couldn’t help but let my jaw drop. I can hardly recover from dropping my iced coffee, let alone from the level of massacre and destruction that the Black people of Tulsa experienced – and yet, they persevered. The quote below is one of my favorites from the book:

To be enslaved before the Civil War, or to be a Black person in America afterward, was to learn how to demonstrate endurance and resilience, to assume the moral high ground in the face of depravity, to possess the ability to advance toward a vision that didn’t yet exist, to create something out of nothing with every faithful step, and to express love in the face of hate. It meant figuring out how to move onward through terrible things that White folks did and to deal with the troubles that Black folks had come to expect life to bring.

Things that would make members of a weaker people turn to dust.

Madigan 213

Just, in awe.

Like I said, I’m so very glad I read this. My only complaints were in regards to writing style; the major players in this story can be hard to recall, and I would have loved a list with a brief explanation of who they were. Additionally, I also wished for more analysis on the impact of this event. The book does bring it through to the current time and political landscape, but that’s the stuff I find most interesting, so I would always love more of that. That’s my only reason for knocking it a star!

Pick this one up! It’s heavy reading, so practice self care, but don’t miss this story. Don’t miss the impact of this event in our lives.

Have a great week.