Review of Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
by Brandy Colbert
Middle School, High School   Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    224 pp.    g
10/21    978-0-06-305666-4    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-305668-8    $9.99

On May 30, 1921 — just over one hundred years ago — a young Black man tripped in an elevator and caught his balance on the arm of the elevator operator, a young white woman who screamed in surprise. He was arrested the next day, May 31; as the story spread, an angry white mob started to assemble outside the courthouse. That night, the Tulsa Race Massacre began in earnest and carried over until the evening of the following day, June 1. The mob descended on the prosperous African American neighborhood of Greenwood to destroy property, take lives, and terrorize the Black population. Colbert chronicles each day with immediacy and in detail, with interspersed chapters providing necessary background information: Oklahoma’s journey to statehood; the forced relocation of American Indian tribes; the rush to claim and settle land; the discovery of oil; the KKK and the practice of lynching to intimidate Black people; the rise of Greenwood, the “Black Wall Street,” and its numerous Black-owned businesses; and the social mobility of African Americans during World War I. A foreword describes the author’s personal connection to this story, while the afterword makes universal connections, drawing parallels between historical and contemporary events. A bibliography, source notes, and an index are also appended. Primarily a fiction writer, Colbert (The Only Black Girls in Town; The Voting Booth, both rev. 7/20) extends her range with this excellent nonfiction book, a welcome contribution to the growing literature about this tragedy; see also Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper’s picture book Unspeakable (rev. 1/21), a 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction honoree.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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