The Ground Breaking (Paperback)
The Tulsa Race Massacre and an American City's Search for Justice
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** Chosen by Oprah Daily as one of the Best Books to Pick Up in May 2021 **
'Fast-paced but nuanced … impeccably researched … a much-needed book' The Guardian
''[S]o dystopian and apocalyptic that you can hardly believe what you are reading. … But the story [it] tells is an essential one, with just a glimmer of hope in it. Because of the work of Ellsworth and many others, America is finally staring this appalling chapter of its history in the face. It's not a pretty sight.' Sunday Times
A gripping exploration of the worst single incident of racial violence in American history, timed to coincide with its 100th anniversary.
On 31 May 1921, in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a mob of white men and women reduced a prosperous African American community, known as Black Wall Street, to rubble, leaving countless dead and unaccounted for, and thousands of homes and businesses destroyed.
But along with the bodies, they buried the secrets of the crime. Scott Ellsworth, a native of Tulsa, became determined to unearth the secrets of his home town. Now, nearly 40 years after his first major historical account of the massacre, Ellsworth returns to the city in search of answers. Along with a prominent African American forensic archaeologist whose family survived the riots, Ellsworth has been tasked with locating and exhuming the mass graves and identifying the victims for the first time. But the investigation is not simply to find graves or bodies – it is a reckoning with one of the darkest chapters of American history.
'[A] riveting, painful-to-read account of a mass crime that, to our everlasting shame … has avoided justice. Ellsworth's book presents us with a clear history of the Tulsa massacre and with that rendering, a chance for atonement … Readers of this book will fervently hope we take that opportunity.' Washington Post
Ellsworth recounts how survivors, researchers, and historians following the 1986 publication of his seminal book on the massacre served as essential catalysts in breaking long held silences around an American tragedy with the aim of modeling what racial healing could look like.
Fast-paced but nuanced … impeccably researched … a much-needed book.
[S]o dystopian and apocalyptic that you can hardly believe what you are reading. … But the story [it] tells is an essential one, with just a glimmer of hope in it. Because of the work of Ellsworth and many others, America is finally staring this appalling chapter of its history in the face. It's not a pretty sight.
[A] riveting, painful-to-read account of a mass crime that, to our everlasting shame … has avoided justice. Ellsworth's book presents us with a clear history of the Tulsa massacre and with that rendering, a chance for atonement … Readers of this book will fervently hope we take that opportunity.
Absolutely riveting … With a stunning combination of objectivity and empathy, it demonstrates how even in polarized times we can come together in pursuit of truth. … Anyone interested in America's future should read it as a template for the reconciliation that lies ahead.
The persistence, empathy and painstaking research of The Ground Breaking move us much closer to the justice that the victims of Greenwood, and the people of America, deserve. Heartbreaking and inspiring.
The Ground Breaking will rattle you, and it should. It will move you toward a harder wisdom, and it must.
'I believe that the path of true racial reconciliation runs through millions of American Whites, whose hearts would be changed if they only knew our history. To those people I would simply say this: Please read this book.
Immensely readable and thoroughly engaging, The Ground Breaking is a remarkable blend of history and memoir that could not be more timely and informative.
This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in an honest grappling with our racial past and with the task of moving forward.
In a time marked by raw nativism, gangster capitalism and white supremacy off its leash, well-funded mobs winked at from above committed racially-driven mass terror against Black citizens and American democracy. Those who find themselves mystified when America's white power movement storms the U.S. Capitol in 2021 need to take a good look back at Tulsa, Oklahoma a century ago.
A brilliant update that recounts the events with the swiftness of an especially grim crime thriller. … An essential historical record surrounding heinous events that have yet to be answered with racial justice.
[A] riveting investigation into the origins and aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre … Interviews with survivors and reflections on the debate over reparations and the social, economic, and racial divisions of modern-day Tulsa add depth to Ellsworth's portrait of a community attempting to heal from an unimaginable injustice. This eloquent, deeply moving history isn't to be missed.
A thoughtful exploration of the importance of collective memory. It is particularly poignant as 2021 marks the centennial of the massacre. A must-read for all who are interested in how history continues to impact the present.
"The Ground Breaking" is … candid and self-aware, undergirded by Ellsworth's earnest efforts to get at this history, and to get it right. … Part of what makes this book so riveting is Ellsworth's skillful narration, his impeccable sense for when to reveal a piece of information and when to hold something back. … "The Ground Breaking" makes for sobering reading; but it also sheds light, and some of it is hopeful.
If one of the public historian's greatest tasks is to make people care, Ellsworth succeeds spectacularly. His character-driven narrative is clear and compelling.
[B]eautifully written, instantly engrossing, and deeply empathetic … an essential read.