Built from the Fire
by Victor Luckerson
A generational saga of a family and a community in Tulsa’s Greenwood district—or “Black Wall Street”—that in one century survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, urban renewal, and gentrification.
When Ed Goodwin moved with his parents to Greenwood, Tulsa, his family joined a growing community on the cusp of becoming the center of Black life in the West. But, just a few years later, on May 31, 1921, the teenaged Ed hid in a bathtub as a white mob descended on his neighborhood. They laid waste to 35 blocks and murdering as many as 300 people. The Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the worst acts of racist violence in United States history.
The Goodwins and many of their neighbors soon rebuilt the district into “a Mecca,” in Ed’s words, where nightlife thrived, small businesses flourished, and an underworld economy lived comfortably alongside public storefronts. Ed grew into a prominent businessman and bought a community newspaper called the Oklahoma Eagle to chronicle its resurgence and battles against white bigotry. He and his genteel wife, Jeanne, raised an ambitious family, who became literal poster-children for black progress, and their son Jim, an attorney, embodied their hopes for the Civil Rights Movement. But, by the 1970s urban renewal policies had nearly emptied the neighborhood, even as Jim and his neighbors tried to hold onto pieces of Greenwood. Today, the newspaper remains, and Ed’s granddaughter Regina represents the neighborhood in the Oklahoma state legislature, working alongside a new generation of local activists.
In Built from the Fire, journalist Victor Luckerson moves beyond the mythology of Black Wall Street to tell the story of Greenwood, an aspirant black neighborhood that, like so many others, has long been buffeted by racist government policies. Luckerson provides an honest accounting of this potent national symbol of success and solidarity and weaves an epic tale about a neighborhood that refused, more than once, to be erased.
Hardcover | 672 pages | Penguin Random House | 2023