How do you think she was able to capture what she did in the book?
She was clearly an intrepid person. She obviously was a person of great agency, a person who was courageous. And a person who had a great sense of herself. We see that in the book when it was time to get identity cards and most people had to have a white person or an employer or someone come and vouch for them in order to get one, a pass like race cards in South Africa, for example, to be able to be out on the street. She said, “What was I supposed to do? Who was I supposed to call? I’ve always earned an independent living and I’ve never worked for a white person in my life.” So what does a person who’s intrepid, entrepreneurial, independent do? What does a Black person, a Black woman like that do in such a circumstance? She eventually figured it out, of course.
This was a woman who had never really asked anyone for anything. These are the human feelings that are going through the minds and hearts of people of that community, who in an instant, lost everything, and for many, even their hope.
Let’s talk about something your grandmother wrote in the beginning of the book. She questions democracy, and asks, “Is democracy a mockery?”
Absolutely, it was a voice to the future. She spoke prophetically and she thought that these questions had to be answered honestly, authentically, and from a deep place of reflection. My great-grandfather was a World War I veteran, and he had returned from the European Theater and was living in Tulsa or in the Tulsa area at the time of the massacre.
So within my own family, I have that aspect of reflection to think about my own forefathers who fought abroad for the freedom of Europe and came home not able to exercise their full civil rights or full civic participation. To exercise even their right to life, right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness here at home. And so these taglines, if you will, begin to ring hollow. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave? Or is it a place where mob rule can take the lives and livelihoods of so many without any justice. No punishment for the perpetrators. No justice for the victim. No cost for the crime.
Who do you hope the book reaches?
Everyone. And I would hope that people are touched by the human part of this story. Mary Jones Parrish said she hoped the book would reach the thinking people of America. I would like this book to reach them as well.