CITATION: Weatherford, Carole Boston & Floyd Cooper. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. Carolrhoda, 2021.
Unspeakable starts off with the phrase “once upon a time,” but its message is based on a harsh history that is definitely not a fairy tale. The accompanying illustrations are beautifully done and are more realistic than some other ones out there for children. They have a grainy quality to them that is evocative of historical photos, and some illustrations do seem to have been derived from historical photos.
The book does a great job explaining that people living in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood descended from American Indians, Exodusters, and former enslaved people. It discusses segregation, Black Wall Street, and goes on to list many of the establishments that existed in the Greenwood neighborhood (churches, libraries, schools, businesses). The book then proceeds to narrate Dick Rowland’s encounter with Sarah Page and the accompanying skirmishes that broke out afterward, followed by the invasion of the Greenwood community.
The book closes with a reference to and illustration of Reconciliation Park. It reads “Today, Tulsa’s Reconciliation Park remembers victims of the 1921 massacre and recalls the role of African Americans in Oklahoma history. But the park is not just a bronze monument to the past. It is a place to realize the responsibility we all have to reject hatred and violence and to instead choose hope” (30).
A minor note here is that students may feel a slight disparity between the format of the book (a hardcover picture book) and the projected age range for the book, which is 8-12. Not all large words in the text are explained – like “furriers” which make it ideal for a slightly older elementary audience. Older elementary audiences are not always interested in picture books, however.
Many books have an author’s note at the end of the book, but students may be interested in the illustrator’s note here too. Floyd Cooper’s grandfather was a survivor of The Tulsa Race Massacre, and he discussed it with his grandchildren. Cooper explains that his illustrations are a way to pass his story on to others.