An eyewitness account of the one of the worst events in American history has become a sleeper bestseller for Trinity University Press before the book’s official pub date of May 25. The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, is a first-person account by Mary E. Jones Parrish, a Black journalist and teacher, of the events of May 31-June 1, 1921. The book has already gone into a third print run, with 10,000 copies in print, and TUP publisher Tom Payton expects to head back to press for a fourth printing. PGW distributes TUP books.
“I’ve been in publishing for 31 years,” Payton said. “It’s one of those rare moments when a project is not just a valuable acquisition from a business perspective, but is also meaningful, timely, and important. Bottom line: this is why we exist.” Not only does The Nation Must Awake feature Parrish’s eyewitness account of the murders of 300 Black Oklahomans by white vigilantes who torched a prosperous 40-square-block district known as the Black Wall Street, but it also contains the recollections of approximately two dozen other witnesses. Parrish’s great-granddaughter, writer/editor Anneliese M. Bruner, wrote the afterword, while the introduction was written by Scott Ellsworth, the author of The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice, the first comprehensive history of the Tulsa Race Massacre. An essay about the incident written by the late historian John Hope Franklin is also included.
Elevating Mary E. Jones Parrish's Story
In 1923, Parrish (1892-1972) privately published 26 copies of The Events of the Tulsa Disaster, her account of escaping the massacre with her young daughter as well as the stories told her by other survivors. The book received little attention -- although Third World Press published a facsimile edition in 1993 and the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University published a limited edition of 200 copies for its funders in 2009.
Payton first heard about the massacre last year as the incident gained traction in both news outlets and popular culture. In 2019, HBO released Watchmen, an alternative history series set in contemporary Tulsa, which opens with scenes of the 1921 massacre. And last June, former President Trump spoke at a rally in Tulsa, prompting such newspapers as the New York Times to recount what happened when an earlier generation of white supremacists had converged upon the city.
“I was outraged when I first learned about the race massacre,” Payton recalled, “Both at the scope of destruction of property and devastation of lives, but also because it has essentially been left out of the history most of us are taught. As I read more about the history of the incident, I saw a passing reference to The Events of the Tulsa Disaster. I got my hands on a copy and it was immediately clear what a valuable contribution the book was as an eyewitness account. I was surprised it has never been published in a trade edition available to a wide, public audience. It was clear we had to publish this in time for the 100th anniversary in 2021."
Bruner told PW that she knew nothing about the Tulsa Race Massacre until 1994, when she was already an adult and her father handed her a copy of Events of the Tulsa Disaster. "He entrusted this book to me," she said, "I had not heard anything about this from my grandmother, who had lived it. Mary Parrish was erased over the years. She and her descendants have not been centered" in accounts of the massacre that relied upon The Events of the Tulsa Disaster as a primary source.
After an essay Bruner wrote comparing the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to the 1921 massacre that referred to her relationship to Parrish was published in The Lily, Bruner learned that TUP was going to publish The Nation Must Awake. She reached out to Payton. “He decided after reading my article to ask me to be part of this project.” After launching the book with a virtual event sponsored by Magic City Books, a Tulsa indie, on May 25, Bruner will speak in person the next day at the John Hope Franklin Center National Symposium commemorating the massacre at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.
“I’ve never been to Tulsa before: this will be my maiden voyage into history,” she said, adding that she was going to “do a little digging” into her family’s history during her visit there and has already scheduled some meetings. “I intend to continue to elevate Mary E. Jones Parrish,” she said, “And her daughter, Florence Parrish Bruner, whose story as a survivor is also important.”