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Step into the World of Greenwood With Me on May 23
After five years of research, I’m publishing my chronicle of the neighborhood that refused, more than once, to be erased
My book about the history of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, Built From the Fire, is almost here! You can pre-order at your local independent bookstore, or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Books-A-Million. Read on for a taste of what the book is like and please share this article with anyone you think might be interested in the story of Greenwood.
For the folks desperate to escape the Jim Crow South, every westbound train glimmered with possibility. In the early 20th century, most of the routes of the Great Migration guided black people north to cities like Chicago and New York, where they could expect to find opportunities largely defined on white people’s terms. A small rented apartment. A good-enough factory job. But in the west, a different vision of success was being built. Black people out there owned millions of acres of land. They were constructing thriving businesses that garnered national press. And they were aggressively defending their rights–with protests and lawsuits and guns, too, if need be. The first folks who made the bold journey wrote back to their Southern compatriots, describing the new land as nothing less than a utopia. “It is superior to any other section of the United States,” declared one former Mississippi newspaper publisher.
In March 1914, another Mississippi family decided to make the leap. Carlie Goodwin and her four children packed up their every treasured belonging and boarded a train for a 400-mile journey west, after her husband J.H, who had already ventured into the unknown on a scouting mission, beckoned them to follow. For the long trip, Carlie brought fried chicken tucked into old shoeboxes and warm blankets that she draped over the kids. The youngest member of the family, 11-year-old Edward, soaked up every mile of the ride. He was most taken by the boisterous train conductor, who bellowed out each stop as the Goodwins journeyed to the place they would call home for the next one hundred years.
“Jonesboro, Arkansas!” the conductor yelled. “Jonesboro, Arkansas!”
“Monett! Monett! Monett!”
“Afton! Afton! Afton, Oklahoma!”
And finally: “Tulsey, Tulsey, Tulsey Town! Tulsey Town, the Tush-Hog town!”
“The history of Greenwood will be forever known,” Greenwood native Jim Goodwin told me in an interview a few years ago. It was Jim’s grandparents, J.H. and Carlie, who first ventured from Mississippi to Tulsa. They survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre but were denied insurance claims on their burned-out property. Jim himself was on the legal team for a failed reparations lawsuit in the early 2000’s. His niece, Regina, is pushed for reparations in the Oklahoma state legislature right now. In just this one family line, the quest for justice now arcs back 102 years. What the people clinging to the reins of power here in Tulsa don’t seem to understand is that the quest will march on into the future as well.
My new book, my first book, BUILT FROM THE FIRE, is about that ongoing struggle for what’s right. Not only restitution for all that was lost during the race massacre but for so many of the obstacles that have been thrown in black people’s way in the one hundred years since. Job discrimination. Redlining. Urban renewal. Police brutality. You’ve read about these issues before, but never the way in which all of them impacted a single community—a single family—one after another. And you’ve never read about the ingenuity, the solidarity and the strategy black people used to combat these incursions at every step. How lessons from one generation were passed to the next, and how a whole neighborhood’s refusal to be erased eventually grew into a sprawling mythology we now know as Black Wall Street.
Writing down our stories, from our perspective, is vital. I’m so honored that the Goodwin family and so many people in this place I now call home have trusted me with their memories, their artifacts, their lore. BUILT FROM THE FIRE is an ambitious work that pulls in perspectives from more than 100 North Tulsa and Greenwood residents, both living and departed. Another Tulsan, Stevie Johnson, once called what I’ve made here a gumbo. I like that. I had no idea how all the ingredients would mix when I started, but the taste is rich and complex. And as anyone who’s read even a few pages of this book (or this newsletter) will tell you, it’s a little spicy too.
What y’all can do for me now is help spread the word about BUILT FROM THE FIRE far and wide. The book drops May 23. Pre-orders are available now, and they’re absolutely vital to the book’s success. Please consider ordering a copy (or three) and telling everybody in your circle to do the same. Here’s how you can help me today:
You can pre-order from your local independent bookstore. Every order they receive shows them that this is a book their customers want to see on their shelves. You can find an independent store in your area using indiebound.org or order from one online using bookshop.org.
If you pre-order the book, reply to this email (or hit me at email@example.com) and let me know. Or even better, @ me on Twitter (@Vluck) or Instagram (@vluck89)
Share this newsletter on your social networks or forward it to a friend
I’m also eager to talk to anyone thinking of buying copies of the book for a larger group–a book club, church, college class, or company professional network. If you want to discuss, you can reply to this email or reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be plenty more newsletter entries in the leadup to the book launch. I’ve been a little quiet lately, but y’all know I’ve been busy. I can’t wait to start talking more about Greenwood’s past, present and future throughout the year. That’s it for now. Thanks to everyone who’s held me down on these digital pages over the last three years, and of course all those who spent their time with me in the streets of Tulsa. We’ve all been through a ride in these years, but we made it! And I can’t wait to share this story with the whole world.
Book cover graphic designed using assets from Freepik.com