This is a “must have”, five star book, newly released in February 2021. Carole Boston Weatherford presents the historic tragedy of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 in a picture book appropriate to young readers. The book details how Greenwood, Oklahoma, was a community where the train tracks divided the Black and white communities. The Black community thrived in every way, becoming what was known as Black Wall Street. One single event resulted in an unfair arrest, triggering what is known as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the history of the United States; at least 300 African American were killed and more than 8,000 lost their homes. The book details how 75 years passed before an official investigation occurred. The ending references Tulsa’s Reconciliation Park and leaves the reader with a call to action.
The brevity of the writing and the emotional illustrations are met at the end of the text with a detail-packed author’s note and illustrator’s note, satisfying readers’ thirst for more historical information. Both Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper have personal connections to this event. Cooper notes, “Everything I knew about this tragedy came from Grandpa; not a single teacher at school ever talked about it.”
Picture this: I was sharing this with my class when a substitute assistant teacher came to supervise my class for a special. She stood in the doorway and listened as I finished the book. Then we introduced ourselves for the very first time. After our introductions, we had literally 2 minutes to share:
Mrs. P: What an interesting book.
Me: It was just published. I don’t know another read aloud that has featured this part of history.
Mrs. P: I didn’t know about this. I grew up in California and went to a school that was all black and Mexican. I never knew about this.
Me: My parents taught me a little about this part of our history.
Mrs. P: I remember…my 5th grade teacher Mr. Smith from Rhode Island. He used to tell me that I had a very thick accent and when I did my homework and it wasn’t to his expectations, he would rip it and throw it in the trash. I would stay up late doing my homework and perfecting my pronunciation so he would not tease me or say it out loud so other classmates can hear. He did that to other kids, too…..I have only talked about things like this with two people. You are the second person …my mother and you have been the only people that know this has followed me all the way to my adult life. I have always worked harder to be the best I ….
A student sitting closest to our conversation was listening intently. At recess she told me, “You, me and our substitute are lucky because we have parents who really love us. Otherwise we may not know the truth.”
As I cleaned up my desk later that day, I came across a note from Mrs. P.:
Thank you so much for showing interest in my story on how much a teacher can mark a child’s life…doesn’t matter, the age, ethnicity, or upbringing.
Love always, Mrs. P, the child from Las Palmas Elementary School in National City, California
So, I end with this: Believe in the power of a read aloud and own the responsibility adults have in teaching all of our country’s history.