Last year, May 31, 2021, marked a century since the Tulsa Race Massacre. This historic event was thrust into the public spotlight last year due to the anniversary of this tragedy with some learning about Greenwood and Black Wall Street for the first time.
I did not learn about Black Wall Street until I was an adult. Thankfully, my identical twin sons, who are currently in 5th grade, will not be able to say the same. I was grateful for the opportunity by Capstone to read an advance copy of Lena and the Burning of Greenwood: A Tulsa Race Massacre Survival Story by Nikki Shannon Smith and illustrated by Markia Jenai because it not only gave me an opportunity to learn more about this topic but it also gave me the opportunity to ensure my sons were not adults when they learned about Black Wall Street and the jealously, hate, and racism that tore it down.
This book is part of the Girls Survive series. Other books in the series are Audrey Under the Big Top: A Hartford Circus Fire Survival Story, Molly and the Twin Towers: A 9/11 Survival Story, and Constance and the Dangerous Crossing: A Mayflower Survival Story. Each book in the series is written by a different author. The thread that ties these books together is the story in each book is told from the viewpoint of a young girl. After my sons and I finished reading the book, my son James said, “I’m glad the main character was a kid. I liked seeing the story from the viewpoint of a kid like me.” These books are historical fiction since the events are real but the character being followed in each book is not.
Reading this book reminded me of the words of Viola Fletcher. Fletcher was seven years old when Greenwood, the place she knew as home, became the site of a Black people massacre. She turned 107 weeks before the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. When speaking to Congress, she said, “I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.”
One aspect of the book that I appreciated was how the author brought to life what life was like for Black residents who built and lived in Greenwood. Due to the prosperity and success of Black people who lived there, Booker T. Washington called it the “Negro Wall Street of America,” and the name changed over time to Black Wall Street. It was described as a place that would be wonderful to live in.
As the events unfolded, my sons had a lot of questions. We would stop and talk about their inquiries. Towards the end, my son Jeremiah said, “But why? I don’t understand why some people died when they did not do anything wrong.” Although we felt sad reading, at times, we knew that it was much worse to live through the events that all started over a Black man being accused of assaulting a white woman. Later, the assault accusation would be proven to be false. I reminded my sons that the least we could do is read the story so the history lives on.
In addition to being a mom, I am an educator. I was an English teacher for years and later a literacy coach. I appreciated that the author provided a forward at the beginning and an author’s note at the end to provide readers with additional historical facts. After the author’s note, there was a making connections section and a glossary. The making connections section provided open-ended questions for readers to respond to or discuss which makes it also a perfect opportunity for students to show their reading comprehension of the text, critical thinking skills, and to provide an opportunity to meet the requirements of some of the literacy standards.
In chapter seven, Lena said, “Greenwood has its own spirit. It’s in the town, but it lives inside the people, just like Daddy says. Look around …They’ll never take who we are away. They can’t.”
Even after the last survivors pass away, the Greenwood spirit can live on in all of us. Despite the horror of the event, the book ended with a sense of hope. I believe the Greenwood spirit is a mix of big dreams, hope, joy, achievement, and tenacity.
As a parent, educator, and learner, I highly recommend this book. This book would be a great addition to a home, classroom, or library!
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*I received a copy of Lena and the Burning of Greenwood: A Tulsa Race Massacre Survival Story for free in exchange for offering an honest review for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2022.*
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2022 (1/28/22) is in its 9th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those books into the hands of young readers and educators.
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