Hidden History: A Susan E. Atkins Book Review

by - June 21, 2022

Many residents of Oklahoma believed that the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 was the deadliest act in their history. When the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was demolished, as well as dozens of cars and more than 300 nearby buildings, 168 people perished and several hundred were injured. The FBI’s official website states, “No stone was left unturned to make sure every clue was found and all the culprits identified.”

The same cannot be said for the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.

According to author Susan E. Atkins, Oklahoma State Representative Don Ross had to correct reports that the 1995 bombing was the worst disaster in Oklahoma history. Atkins, a Tulsa resident for 30 years, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and professor at the University of Tulsa, had never heard of the 1921 race massacre. For almost 100 years, this tragedy was swept under the rug, and that infuriated her.

Atkins dove into as many scholarly sources as she could find about the massacre. Historically accurate, well-annotated books were right at her disposal, yet history books were notably absent of any trace of this piece of history. This inspired her to write a historical fiction account of the massacre called Never Again!

With six pages of bibliography, Never Again! brings a fictionalized account of what occurred between Black man Dick Roland and white woman Sarah Page, beginning inside an elevator of the Drexel Building on May 30, 1921. On May 31 and June 1, 1921, thousands of drunk, armed and newly deputized white citizens invaded Tulsa's thriving Greenwood District, murdered an estimated 300 Blacks, tortured thousands more and incinerated 35 city blocks of homes, businesses, churches and other institutions.

“The Greenwood community was known as ‘Black Wall Street’, but the Tulsa Tribune, which was a big player in this whole thing, were just fanning the flames of what a cesspool of drugs and [sex workers] Greenwood was,” Atkins said. “They just totally ignored the fact that there were brilliant doctors, lawyers, fine jewelry shops, churches, and all of it was burned to the ground over the course of two days.”

Atkins created two fictional characters to help move the story forward to present day, including Hattie Johnson Rogers, daughter of Roland and Page, and her best friend, Lucy Ann Barnes. They meet when entering Booker T. Washington High School, and become lifelong friends who eventually become part of the conversation of fighting for reparations. The book speaks of the real 2005 case appeal that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear, and how real people Representative Don Ross and Senator Maxine Horner helped commission a report to get real answers.

As of May 2022, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking reparations for the massacre are finally moving forward. An extensive curriculum was introduced to Oklahoma school districts. President Joe Biden became the first sitting president to visit the area. A free, public exhibit is offered by the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Progress has been made, but is not finished.

“I truly want people to be able to learn about this story and history,” Atkins said. “What people forget about something like this is that the wealth that could have been passed on to subsequent generations, and wealth could have accumulated through generations. [Those who survived] fled, never to return. It was a tragic loss for the city of Tulsa and the community of Greenwood.”

Never Again! Is available here. Read more about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre here.

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