Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Highly Recommended! Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Published in 2021
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Today's "short and sweet" review is of a 2021 picture book -- Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. Unspeakable is one of the last books to be illustrated by the remarkable Floyd Cooper.

Here's a description of Unspeakable. 

"... a sensitive and powerful introduction to the Tulsa Race Massacre, helping young readers understand the events of the past so we can move toward a better future for all."

There is so much to say about this book. It was not easy to choose only four reasons to recommend it. 
Reason One to recommend Unspeakable: The subject matter. Events similar to the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred far too often but are rarely, if ever, addressed in school history classes. Nor is the sociopolitical climate that produced them. I didn't know about the Greenwood Massacre until I was in my 50s, visiting family in Tulsa, where official recognition of it was just beginning to surface. Widespread awareness is long overdue.

Reason Two: Carole Boston Weatherford's way with words. She conveys historical information simply but effectively. Her use of the old fairy tale beginning, "Once upon a time", feels especially powerful and poignant to me, expressing optimism on one hand and laying the groundwork for horror on the other. Her descriptions alone could, I think, be used instead of whatever might be in college textbooks about Greenwood. 

Reason Three: The way the text and Floyd Cooper's illustrations work together. The illustrations add concreteness and intensity to Weatherford's prose by telling a fictional story of one family that escapes the South to settle in Tulsa, only to have their dreams of a better life destroyed along with the entire Greenwood community. That story, told in pictures, can help young readers or listeners connect more deeply as Weatherford recounts the history of Greenwood. I really do feel this book should be part of the curriculum in high school and university history classes because it so skillfully blends the facts about a place and events with an engaging individualized story.

Reason Four: Acknowledgement of Black Indians. On the second page of text in Unspeakable, Weatherford says the residents of Greenwood "descended from Black Indians, from formerly enslaved people, and from Exodusters who moved West in the late 1800s...." And Floyd Cooper, who was himself Muscogee (Creek) and Black, signals the family's dual heritage on the page where a little girl holds a corn husk doll. Making corn husk dolls is a Muscogee tradition. (The Muscogee Nation has a video showing how to make one.)

Get this book. Read it, learn from it, share it with young people. We need its truth.

*A Short and Sweet rec is not an in-depth analysis. It is our strategy to tell you that we recommend a book we have read. We will definitely refer to it in book chapters and articles we write, and in presentations we do. Our Short and Sweet Recs include four reasons why we recommend the book.

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