cover image 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

Brandy Colbert. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-305666-4

In compassionate but unflinching prose, Colbert (The Only Black Girls in Town) recounts the events of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the intentional and violent destruction of a thriving Black community in Tulsa, Okla., on Memorial Day 1921. Like countless lynchings of Black men that began when a white woman’s virtue was thought to be in question, the Tulsa Race Massacre was prompted by an encounter between 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black resident of the financially successful, predominantly Black Greenwood District, and white female elevator operator Sarah Page. A fateful, still unclear, misunderstanding led to police intervention, then to a “shameful, completely preventable tragedy, like so many incidents in United States history,” reads the book’s foreword. Alternating between survivor quotes, a detailed background of Oklahoma and Black chattel slavery, and a stirring account of the disturbing 1921 events, Colbert displays an impeccable grasp of the history of segregated Black towns and communities, such as Tulsa’s Greenwood District, and the powder keg of hatred and prejudice that would eventually condemn it. Moreover, this telling of an often-excluded story is powerful in its clarity about “the violent, genocidal foundation of this country” and its continuing effects. Ages 14–up. Agent: Tina Dubois, ICM Partners. (Oct.)