Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Unspeakable cover
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Carolrhoda, 2021
32 pages

Ages 7-12

“Once upon a time near Tulsa, Oklahoma…” There is promise in the opening pages of this picture-book history as the Black community in the booming city of Tulsa prospers in the early 20th century. Although they couldn’t escape racism and segregation in Tulsa, Black people had built the 10,000-strong, thriving Greenwood neighborhood. In 1921, a young Black man was accused by a young white woman of assault. He was arrested, and a white mob intent on lynching him clashed with Black men intent on protecting him, leaving 12 dead. Then the mob descended on Greenwood. “Once upon a time in Greenwood,” up to 300 Black people died, more than 8,000 were left homeless, “and hundreds of businesses were reduced to ash.” A later investigation determined “police and city officials had plotted with the white mob to destroy the nation’s wealthiest Black community.” Author Carole Boston Weatherford’s affecting account of the tragedy and the racism behind it is followed by an author’s note that includes additional information about the unfounded arrest of the young Black man, “who either stumbled or stepped” onto the foot of the young white woman. Illustrator Floyd Cooper, who grew up in Tulsa and whose illustrations capture the dignity of individuals and the vibrancy of the community, as well as anger, chaos and fear, writes about his grandfather, whose memories of the massacre were how he learned about it as a child, noting it was never spoken of in school. ©2021 Cooperative Children’s Book Center