A multigenerational saga of a family and a community in Tulsa’s Greenwood district, known as “Black Wall Street,” that in one century survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, urban renewal, and gentrification
“Ambitious . . . absorbing . . . By the end of Luckerson’s outstanding book, the idea of building something new from the ashes of what has been destroyed becomes comprehensible, even hopeful.”—Marcia Chatelain, The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)
When Ed Goodwin moved with his parents to Greenwood, Tulsa, in 1914, his family joined a growing community on the cusp of becoming a national center of black life. But, just seven years later, on May 31, 1921, the teenaged Ed hid in a bathtub as a white mob descended on his neighborhood, laying waste to thirty-five blocks and murdering as many as three hundred people. The Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the most brutal acts of racist violence in U.S. history, a ruthless attempt to smother a spark of black independence.
But that was never the whole story of Greenwood. The Goodwins and their neighbors soon rebuilt it into “a Mecca,” in Ed’s words, where nightlife thrived, small businesses flourished, and an underworld economy lived comfortably alongside public storefronts. Prosperity and poverty intermixed, and icons from W.E.B. Du Bois to Muhammad Ali ambled down Greenwood Avenue, alongside maids, doctors, and every occupation in between. Ed grew into a prominent businessman and bought a newspaper called the Oklahoma Eagle to chronicle Greenwood’s resurgence and battles against white bigotry. He and his wife, Jeanne, raised an ambitious family, and their son Jim, an attorney, embodied their hopes for the Civil Rights Movement in his work. But by the 1970s, urban renewal policies had nearly emptied the neighborhood, even as Jim and his neighbors tried to hold on to it. Today, while new high-rises and encroaching gentrification risk wiping out Greenwood’s legacy for good, the family 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 an aspirant black neighborhood that, like so many others, has long been buffeted by racist government policies. Through the eyes of dozens of race massacre survivors and their descendants, Luckerson delivers an honest, moving portrait 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.
About the Author
Victor Luckerson is a journalist and author based in Tulsa who works to bring neglected black history to light. He is a former staff writer at The Ringer and business reporter for Time magazine. His writing and research have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Wired, and Smithsonian. He was nominated for a National Magazine Award for his reporting in Time on the 1923 Rosewood Massacre. He also manages an email newsletter about underexplored aspects of black history called Run It Back.
“Ambitious . . . By the end of Luckerson’s outstanding book, the idea of building something new from the ashes of what has been destroyed becomes comprehensible, even hopeful.”—The New York Times
“Exceptional . . . Luckerson’s thoroughly researched and empathetically written account—anchored in the complex experiences of the Greenwood residents themselves—gives voice to a powerful, exquisitely multifaceted community that refuses to be silenced.”—The Washington Post
“Cinematic . . . Built from the Fire offers a case study of how present-day Greenwood, and dozens of other struggling Black communities, got here. Luckerson reserves his final chapters for green shoots of hope.”—The Star Tribune
“The scope, the elegance, and the power of Luckerson’s tale is simply breathtaking and empowering.”—Carol Anderson, author of White Rage
“Built from the Fire demonstrates how wealth is stripped away from black families whether at the hands of lawless white citizens, law enforcement personnel, or elected officials. It is also the story of black hope and the belief in the possibility of a brighter tomorrow.”—Dorothy A. Brown, author of The Whiteness of Wealth
“Built from the Fire is a deeply researched chronicle of Tulsa’s extraordinary African American community through decades of triumph and tragedy, heartbreak and determination. In telling the story of the life and times of the remarkable Goodwin clan, Victor Luckerson has provided us with a true American family saga.”—Scott Ellsworth, author of The Ground Breaking: The Tulsa Race Massacre and An American City's Search for Justice
“Victor Luckerson has produced a dynamic, and propulsive chronicle of that episode in American history. Given the tenor of our present times, this is truly a necessary book—and one that marks the exciting arrival of a new literary talent.”—Wil Haygood, author of Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World
“By dissecting the way we’ve all internalized the racial and economic structures that guide city-making (and city-destruction), Luckerson offers us hope that we can build communities that support us all.”—Peter Moskowitz, author of How to Kill a City
“Built from the Fire is a sensitively rendered account of a family and community that persists.”—Tiya Miles, National Book Award–winning author of All That She Carried
“This is a new addition to the canon of required readings on this nation’s tortured racial history.”—Jelani Cobb, author of The Substance of Hope
“A vital book . . . [Victor Luckerson] brings his considerable journalistic sensibilities to this sweeping and intimate portrait of racial violence, empowerment, and social action.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Luckerson fills every page with humanity distilled from his prodigious research.”—BookPage (starred review)