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
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October 05, 2021
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A searing new work of nonfiction from award-winning author Brandy Colbert about the history and legacy of one of the most deadly and destructive acts of racial violence in American history: the Tulsa Race Massacre.

In the early morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob marched across the train tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and into its predominantly Black Greenwood District—a thriving, affluent neighborhood known as America's Black Wall Street. They brought with them firearms, gasoline, and explosives. In a few short hours, they'd razed thirty-five square blocks to the ground, leaving hundreds dead. The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of the most devastating acts of racial violence in US history. But how did it come to pass? What exactly happened? And why are the events unknown to so many of us today?

These are the questions that award-winning author Brandy Colbert seeks to answer in this unflinching nonfiction account of the Tulsa Race Massacre. In examining the tension that was brought to a boil by many factors—white resentment of Black economic and political advancement, the resurgence of white supremacist groups, the tone and perspective of the media, and more—a portrait is drawn of an event singular in its devastation, but not in its kind. It is part of a legacy of white violence that can be traced from our country's earliest days through Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement in the mid–twentieth century, and the fight for justice and accountability Black Americans still face today.

The Tulsa Race Massacre has long failed to fit into the story Americans like to tell themselves about the history of their country. This book, ambitious and intimate in turn, explores the ways in which the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre is the story of America—and by showing us who we are, points to a way forward.

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A must buy for every MG and YA nonfiction shelf
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The June 1, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is an event few know about, though it was one of the most violent acts of white supremacy in US history. Brandy Colbert’s BLACK BIRDS IN THE SKY examines what lead to the events of June 1st, what exactly happened that day, and why it’s been virtually kept out of history books since.

3 Reasons to read BLACK BIRDS IN THE SKY:

1.) The important education: In typical history classrooms, curriculum covers the first World War, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. However, they rarely talk about the many acts of racial violence during all of those periods, including the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The lives of African Americans are rarely discussed post-Civil War until the Civil Rights Era begins. Colbert sets the stage to what life was like for African Americans during the early 1900s and specifically what the lives of Black Tulsans were like.

2.) The multifaceted approach to history: What I loved most about BLACK BIRDS IN THE SKY was Colbert’s commitment to telling the full story. While some might expect this book to only focus on 1921 and maybe a year or two before and after, it actually goes back even further to what enslaved people experienced when they were freed to how Oklahoma became a state to how Black Wall Street was formed. It includes important conversations about how Indigenous communities were treated, the land runs that took place, and the many other acts of racial violence around the country at the time.

3.) The storytelling: Though this is nonfiction, Brandy Colbert does a phenomenal job pulling you into the historical narrative and setting the scenes. There is clear logic in the flow and breakdown of chapters. Likewise, this is a shorter book, making it more accessible to young readers who might be intimidated by higher page counts.

BLACK BIRDS IN THE SKY is a stunning work of nonfiction for young readers that covers a tragically lesser-known event in history.
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