Race Matters Episode 5: Novelist Rilla Askew Sheds Light on Tulsa Race Riot and Today’s Racial Unrest

July 6, 2016

Photo from the Tulsa Race Riot


Episode summary 

One of the country’s worst acts of violence against a minority community happened in Oklahoma. The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot led to the destruction of Greenwood, a wealthy all-black area due north of downtown known as “Black Wall Street.” 

For years, history books glossed over accounts of the event. In 1996, state lawmakers commissioned an official historical account of what happened. Seven years earlier, award-winning novelist Rilla Askew began researching the Tulsa Race Riot for a book after realizing she had never heard of the historic event. 

“I was reading a biography of the great African-American novelist Richard Wright, and in that book, in the first few pages, there was mention of a riot that happened in Tulsa, and I was devastated,” Askew said. “I thought, a race riot that happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma? I never heard of this thing. I grew up 50 miles from there. How could that be?”

It took over a decade to finish Fire in Beulah, and during this episode of Race Matters host Merelyn Bell and Rilla Askew discuss the connections between the Tulsa Race Riot and the Black Live Matter movement of today. They also consider how things have things changed and continued racial violence in America.

Merleyn Bell is a former art director at World Literature Today.