An unflinching account of America’s most horrific racial massacre, The Burning is essential reading as America finally comes to terms with its racial past.
When first published in 2001, society apparently wasn’t ready for such an unstinting narrative. After it was published, The Burning, like its subject matter, remained unknown to most in America. That has changed dramatically.
“I began to suspect that a crucial piece remained missing from America’s long attempts at racial reconciliation,” Madigan wrote in 2001 in the author’s note to The Burning. “Too many in this country remained as ignorant as I was. Too many were just as oblivious to some of the darkest moments in our history, a legacy of which Tulsa is both a tragic example and a shameful metaphor. How can we heal when we don’t know what we’re healing from?”
Now, 100 years after the massacre, Madigan brings new resonance to these questions in the reissue of this definitive work of American history. Featuring a brand new afterword, The Burning skillfully places the Tulsa Massacre in a broader historical context. Rather than an exception, the massacre was completely consistent with that time in the United States, an era of Jim Crow, widespread lynching, and racism endorsed and promulgated at the highest levels of society. Such were the foundations of the systemic racism at the root of our problems today.
On the morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob numbering in the thousands marched across the railroad tracks dividing Black from white in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and obliterated a Black community then celebrated as one of America's most prosperous. 34 square blocks of Tulsa's Greenwood community, known then as the Negro Wall Street of America, were reduced to smoldering rubble.
And now, 100 years later, the death toll of what is known as the Tulsa Race Massacre is more difficult to pinpoint. Conservative estimates put the number of dead at about 100 (75% of the victims are believed to have been Black), but the actual number of casualties could be triple that. The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, formed to determine exactly what happened, has recommended that restitution to the historic Greenwood Community would be good public policy and do much to repair the emotional as well as physical scars of this most terrible incident in our shared past.
With chilling details, humanity, and the narrative thrust of compelling fiction, The Burning recreates the town of Greenwood at the height of its prosperity, explores the currents of hatred, racism, and mistrust between its Black residents and neighboring Tulsa's white population, narrates events leading up to and including Greenwood's annihilation, and documents the subsequent silence that surrounded the tragedy.
"Truly an eye-opening book, this is essential reading for anyone struggling to understand race relations in America." —Library Journal
“Madigan somehow manages to tell the story of what happened with grace, purity and haunting starkness.” —Buzz Bissinger
“A powerful book, a harrowing case study made all the more so by Madigan's skillful, clear-eyed telling of it.” —Adam Nossiter, The New York Times Book Review
The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan
St. Martin's Griffin 2021