The birth of Magic City began one Sunday morning when I read a 1983 Parade Magazine headline: “The Only US City Bombed From the Air.”
A black and white photo showed a community burnt to ash. The article, no more than three paragraphs, cited these basic ‘facts’: Dick Rowland, a shoe shine, was accused of assaulting a white female elevator operator. A riot ensued and the National Guard bombed Deep Greenwood, a thriving, black community known as ‘the Negro Wall Street.’ Over 4,000 blacks were interned in tents for nearly a year and given ‘green cards.’
For over a decade, the subject haunted me emotionally and intellectually. How and why did blacks migrate to Oklahoma? Why did whites have enough tolerance to allow a black community to establish itself but not enough tolerance to allow its success? How was it that I’d never heard of the Tulsa Riot? Why was this history suppressed? During my research, I found that both Rowland, the young black man, and Sarah Page, the white woman, were victimized by yellow journalism which inflamed racial tensions. Ultimately, charges against Dick Rowland were dropped. Sarah Page refused to testify. History lies, obscures, and twists the truth, particularly about women and African Americans. My role as a novelist is to tell better lies which I hope will convey an emotional truth to counterbalance inaccurate history. My novel is an imaginative rendering of the Tulsa Riot. I invented characters struggling to define themselves and their responsibilities to their communities, characters whose spiritual awakening sustains them through great tragedy.
By “re-imagining” history, I hope to open my own heart, my readers’ hearts to a myriad of emotions-awe, compassion, love, anger, outrage against injustice, and, ultimately, inspire a renewed respect for the wonder of being human. All my stories are connected to my own spiritual journey. As my son’s mother, I must try and understand men’s voices and the frustration a black son may feel in a racist society; as my daughter’s mother, I must encourage women’s voices even when society might prefer them to be “hush.” As a sister-friend to other women, I must celebrate the ties of kinship which can unite women across race and class lines. As a citizen-novelist, Magic City is intended to reaffirm that hatred for any reason-race, religion, gender, class-diminishes us all.
During the 20’s, Tulsa was called the “magic city” due to its oil wealth. But the magic in the novel is far deeper, more spiritual. While there are sleight-of-hand tricks, the real magic lies in the extraordinary magic of ordinary people. I was amazed by the courage the men and women of Tulsa showed during the riot and later, in rebuilding Deep Greenwood. The veterans of the 369th infantry demonstrated remarkable heroism when they tried to prevent Rowland’s lynching. Every one of those men was somebody’s father, husband, brother, uncle, son and, yet, they stood firm in the face of overwhelming odds. My novel is a praise song to those black men. It is a praise song, too, to women who speak disturbing truths-who give birth, prepare the dead for burial, and in between sing the songs and speak the stories which can uplift communities.
I was nineteen when I first discovered black women wrote novels. Since that time, I’ve been inspired to weave my own magic. At times, I feel frightened, daunted by the task. Its scary writing a novel. Its even scarier when your first novel has been a success.
Nonetheless, I am living my best dream. I am a writer. My novel is dedicated to my children with the encouragement – “to live your best dreams.” So each day during the predawn hours, I write and inside my head, I hear my characters whispering that despite hardships, pain, and frailties, “All of us are strong. Brave and good-willed. All of us are magical.” I hope to pass this story, the spirit on to you.