Fire in Beulah

Books will be distributed beginning March 8 at our two kick-off events.

Set during the tense days of the Oklahoma oil rush, Rilla Askew's Fire in Beulah is a mesmerizing story that centers on the complex relationship between Althea Whiteside, an oil wildcatter's high-strung wife, and Graceful, her enigmatic black maid. Their juxtaposing stories—and those of others close to them—unfold against a volatile backdrop of oil-boom opulence, fear, hatred, lynchings that climax in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, when whites burned the city's prosperous black community.  

On the evening of May 31, 1921, in Tulsa, OK, a mob of whites congregated in front of the city jail, where an African-American man was being held for assaulting a white woman. Although the "assault" had consisted of the man's accidentally stepping on the woman's foot, it was a severe enough violation for him to be arrested and more than enough for rumors to spread throughout the city and beyond about “a nigger's having raped a white woman.” 

Two lynchings had recently taken place in Oklahoma -- of a white man in Tulsa and an African-American man in Oklahoma City -- so there was bloodlust in the night air, on both sides of the tracks that divided Tulsa's blacks and whites.  A group of African-American men began to congregate on the north side of the city, known as Greenwood, an urban enclave W.E.B. Du Bois had called "the finest example of Negro self-sufficiency in the United States." These men formed their own haphazard militia, gathered up the guns they had and headed toward the jail in white Tulsa.  These were the events that touched off the most violent race riot in American history.

By the end of the next evening, June 1, Greenwood had been burned to the ground. Hundreds of "deputized" white Tulsans led an assault across the railroad tracks, murdering African-Americans indiscriminately. Those fortunate enough to survive the "ethnic cleansing" were either corralled in makeshift concentration camps or escaped by fleeing farther north of town.

Learn more about the Tulsa Race Riot and Tulsa area where it occurred: