The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921
Mary E. Jones Parrish
(afterword by her great granddaughter and ASALH member Anneliese M. Bruner)
Mary Parrish was reading in her home when the Tulsa race massacre began on the evening of May 31, 1921. Parrish’s daughter, Florence Mary, called the young journalist and teacher to the window. “Mother,” she said, “I see men with guns.” The two eventually fled into the night under a hail of bullets and unwittingly became eyewitnesses to one of the greatest race tragedies in American history.
Spurred by word that a young Black man was about to be lynched for stepping on a white woman’s foot, a three-day riot erupted that saw the death of hundreds of Black Oklahomans and the destruction of the Greenwood district, a prosperous, primarily Black area known nationally as Black Wall Street. The murdered were buried in mass graves, thousands were left homeless, and millions of dollars worth of Black-owned property was burned to the ground. The incident, which was hidden from history for decades, is now recognized as the single worst episode of racial violence in the United States.
The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, published for a wide audience for the first time, is Parrish’s first-person account, along with the recollections of dozens of others, compiled immediately following the tragedy. With meticulous attention to detail that transports readers to those fateful days, Parrish documents the magnitude of the loss of human life and property at the hands of white vigilantes. The testimonies shine light on Black residents’ bravery and the horror of seeing their neighbors gunned down and their community lost to flames.
Parrish hoped that her book would “open the eyes of the thinking people to the impending danger of letting such conditions exist and in the ‘Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.’ ” Although the story is a hundred years old, elements of its racial injustices are still being replayed in the streets of America today. Includes a new afterword by Anneliese M. Bruner, Parrish’s great-granddaughter, and an introduction by the late historian John Hope Franklin and Scott Ellsworth, author of The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice.