Victor Luckerson is the author Built From the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa’s Greenwood District. The book is a comprehensive account of the history of Tulsa’s Greenwood District spanning more than a century of Black entrepreneurial development. Most Americans have by now heard of the 1921 massacre of Blacks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but few are aware of the ways that Greenwood has been and continues to be a microcosm for the Black experience in America, through both its triumphs and the tragedies it has endured.
Why was it important for you to write this book now?
Sometimes when you learn history in school, it’s presented to us as a sort of set of random facts or trivia that don’t have much to do with us today, but history shapes everything about what’s going on with our lives politically, and even our physical landscape. In Greenwood, like many other communities, a highway was put through the middle of the neighborhood in the 1960s. In my book, I follow through the mechanics of how that happened, how the community responded to it, and how that was damaging to Black communities across the United States. Fast-forward to today, the federal government is considering removing the highway from Greenwood and from other Black communities across the United States.
There’s funding in the Biden infrastructure bill to spend up to a billion dollars, getting rid of the destructive highways from Greenwood and other places. When I look through some of the proposals that are being submitted by the different cities about why they deserve the money in Greenwood, they were able to cite their history and … that incentivizes the federal government again on this money to get rid of the highway. That’s just one small example of how history isn’t a series of facts and old books, and is literally shaping the political dynamics going on right now today in communities like Greenwood.
What do you want readers to take away from the book?
What happened in Greenwood also happened in your backyard, no matter where you are from. People in your community experienced racial violence at some point in the history of your city or state. People in your community were discriminated against for jobs, and at some point probably had a highway renewal process of disrupting their neighborhood. People in your community have been advocating for police reform and against police violence in the last several years during the Black Lives Matter movement but in addition to that, they’ve been having joyous, fully captured lives as they go through all these struggles. I think it’s just understanding that the Black communities we have everywhere are really rich, and what I’ve walked through in this book is almost like a blueprint for what would have happened, whatever time you may be from.