Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Book review by
Diondra K. Brown, Common Sense Media
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre Book Poster Image
Illuminating retelling of a tragic American event.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Explores an often ignored but significant event in American history. Takes a nonfiction and developmentally appropriate approach to uncover the sequence of events that led to the destruction of Greenwood, Oklahoma, in 1921. Shows a community that signified the potential for Black wealth and success to the rest of the world. 

Positive Messages

While the book highlights the wicked and hateful results of racism in U.S. history, the author imparts a message of hope and healing at the conclusion. Messages of resiliency and prosperity are present throughout. 

Positive Role Models

Many positive representations of families and businesspeople in the Black community, examples of resiliency.

Violence & Scariness

Descriptive language and illustrations show violence against Black people and their community, resulting in destruction of their homes and businesses. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre is a nonfiction, child-friendly retelling of an important event in U.S. history. The story is brought to life by Caldecott Honoree and NAACP Image Award author Carole Boston Weatherford and Coretta Scott King Award winning illustrator Floyd Cooper. The picture book tracks the progression of the formation and destruction of an illustrious, predominately Black community called Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from the 1800s to the present day. It identifies hatred and displeasure with Black people meeting or surpassing the achievements of White people as the reasons for the destruction of the community. 

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What's the story?

UNSPEAKABLE: THE TULSA RACE MASSACRE brings to light the story of the rise and fall of the community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, primarily in the early 1900s. After discovering the natural richness and abundance of resources the land had the offer, thousands of descendants from Black Indians, formerly enslaved people, and Exodusters migrated to the town after the Civil War. Known as the home of "Black Wall Street," the town was rich with culture, assets, businesses, and monetary wealth, and was divided from the White community by train tracks. The book pinpoints the defining moment in 1921 when an elevator ride changed the town forever. 

Is it any good?

Author Carole Boston Wetherford brilliantly tackles this palpably emotional and historical event in a way in which children can understand its meaning and consequences. The experience of reading Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. You're drawn in with a sense of familiarity as you learn more about the town's history and as you experience Floyd Cooper's warm and emotionally rich illustrations. Then that's contrasted with the total destruction of the town and the displacement of thousands of community members. This is an essential read to understand more about the culture of struggle and residency within the Black community. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the emotions of residents of Greenwood, Oklahoma, in Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. How did they feel when their community was under attack? If you were forced to leave your home or community, what would you miss the most? 

  • Do you think it was difficult to rebuild the Greenwood community, and forgive those who were violent and destroyed the town? 

  • Many people don't know about this event in American history. Can you do research to see if other similar events, that you may not know about, have occurred? Why is it important to remember sad or painful events like wars or attacks on a community? 

  • Tulsa's Recompilation Park honors victims of the 1921 massacre. Have you ever visited a similar park or monument that honors another event in American history? What was that like? 

Book details

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