Built from the Fire
The Epic Story of Tulsa's Greenwood District, America's Black Wall Street
by Victor Luckerson
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Pub Date 23 May 2023 | Archive Date 30 Sep 2023
Random House Publishing Group - Random House, Random House
“Ambitious . . . absorbing . . . By the end of Luckerson’s outstanding book, the idea of building something new from the ashes of what has been destroyed becomes comprehensible, even hopeful.”—Marcia Chatelain, The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)
When Ed Goodwin moved with his parents to Greenwood, Tulsa, in 1914, his family joined a growing community on the cusp of becoming a national center of black life. But, just seven years later, on May 31, 1921, the teenaged Ed hid in a bathtub as a white mob descended on his neighborhood, laying waste to thirty-five blocks and murdering as many as three hundred people. The Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the most brutal acts of racist violence in U.S. history, a ruthless attempt to smother a spark of black independence.
But that was never the whole story of Greenwood. The Goodwins and their neighbors soon rebuilt it into “a Mecca,” in Ed’s words, where nightlife thrived, small businesses flourished, and an underworld economy lived comfortably alongside public storefronts. Prosperity and poverty intermixed, and icons from W.E.B. Du Bois to Muhammad Ali ambled down Greenwood Avenue, alongside maids, doctors, and every occupation in between. Ed grew into a prominent businessman and bought a newspaper called the Oklahoma Eagle to chronicle Greenwood’s resurgence and battles against white bigotry. He and his wife, Jeanne, raised an ambitious family, and their son Jim, an attorney, embodied their hopes for the Civil Rights Movement in his work. But by the 1970s, urban renewal policies had nearly emptied the neighborhood, even as Jim and his neighbors tried to hold on to it. Today, while new high-rises and encroaching gentrification risk wiping out Greenwood’s legacy for good, the family newspaper remains, and Ed’s granddaughter Regina represents the neighborhood in the Oklahoma state legislature, working alongside a new generation of local activists.
In Built from the Fire, journalist Victor Luckerson moves beyond the mythology of Black Wall Street to tell the story of an aspirant black neighborhood that, like so many others, has long been buffeted by racist government policies. Through the eyes of dozens of race massacre survivors and their descendants, Luckerson delivers an honest, moving portrait of this potent national symbol of success and solidarity—and weaves an epic tale about a neighborhood that refused, more than once, to be erased.
“In a kaleidoscope of colorful details and moving moments, journalist Victor Luckerson profiles the people who built ‘Black Wall Street’ and then lost nearly all to a violent, racially motivated attack. Built from the Fire confronts the devastation of the Tulsa race massacre while tracing the recovery and repair effort that continues. While insisting that the Greenwood community kept their ‘own ledger’ of an atrocity city and state leaders overlooked for far too long, Luckerson has created his own compelling ledger in this sensitively rendered account of a family and community that persists.”
--Tiya Miles, National Book Award-winning author of All That She Carried
“Built From The Fire is a deeply researched chronicle of Tulsa’s extraordinary African American community through decades of triumph and tragedy, heartbreak and determination. But, more importantly, in telling the story of the life and times of the remarkable Goodwin clan, Victor Luckerson has provided us with a true American family saga.”
--Scott Ellsworth, author of The Ground Breaking: The Tulsa Race Massacre and an American City’s Search for Justice
"Built from the Fire tells a powerful story of African American resiliency and 'hopeful anger.' Of believing so much in the American dream and the promise of this nation despite slavery, despite the betrayal of Reconstruction, despite the terror that obliterated the achievements of multiple generations of Black people, of rebuilding from that devastation under the chokehold of Jim Crow, to the faded promises of civil rights, to the resurgence of the anti-Black right-wing. And all along African Americans believing in and knowing the strength of the community in sustaining that which racism has tried repeatedly to destroy. The scope, the elegance, and the power of Luckerson's tale is simply breathtaking and empowering."
--Carol Anderson, author of White Rage
“A vital book… An ambitious chronicle of a racially motivated atrocity that still resonates today… [Victor Luckerson] brings his considerable journalistic sensibilities to this sweeping and intimate portrait of racial violence, empowerment, and social action… Luckerson's exhaustive research and interviewing yield an evocative tale related through the sagas of several prominent Greenwood families and massacre survivors—most notably, the Goodwin family, the longest-surviving Greenwood family and caretakers of the invaluable newspaper the Oklahoma Eagle, which becomes another character in the story. Luckerson's well-documented history of the arrivals, struggles, and triumphs of Black Tulsa prior to the massacre is invaluable, particularly his accounts of the development and promise of Tulsa as a whole and of Greenwood's phoenixlike emergence from the ashes… Luckerson adeptly describes the century-long economic, political, and psychological consequences of the massacre, and he clearly demonstrates how those consequences inform contemporary debates in Tulsa, the Oklahoma state legislature, and the nation concerning restitution, police brutality and accountability, and the social responsibility of citizens and businesses, Black and White alike.”
—Kirkus Reviews, *starred review!*
“In the tradition of the great reporting of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Sons, Victor Luckerson describes in gripping detail the events surrounding the Tulsa Massacre in a way never before seen. He carefully chronicles a tale of tragedy and resilience; of lives destroyed and the miraculous will to rebuild. Built From The Fire demonstrates how wealth is stripped away from black families whether at the hands of lawless white citizens, law enforcement personnel, or elected officials. It is also the story of black hope and the belief in the possibility of a brighter tomorrow.”
—Dorothy A. Brown, author of The Whiteness of Wealth
“By burrowing deep into the stalwart Goodwin family—survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre—Victor Luckerson has produced a dynamic, and propulsive, chronicle of that episode in American history. Given the tenor of our present times, this is truly a necessary book. And one that marks the exciting arrival of a new literary talent.”
—Wil Haygood, author of Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films In A White World
“Victor Luckerson does something more important than just recounting the history of a city, he shows how narratives—in the media, in our communities, and in our minds—affect our perception of what a city can be, and who cities are for. By dissecting the way we've all internalized the racial and economic structures that guide city-making (and city-destruction), Luckerson offers us hope that we can build communities that support us all.”
—P.E. Moskowitz, author of How to Kill a City