Excerpt from The Ground Breaking by Scott Ellsworth, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Ground Breaking

An American City and Its Search for Justice

by Scott Ellsworth

The Ground Breaking by  Scott Ellsworth X
The Ground Breaking by  Scott Ellsworth
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2021, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2022, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Scott C. Martin
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter 1

1921

Close your eyes and you can almost hear them.

It's a Thursday afternoon on a long-ago spring day. In the alleys and on the back porches it is still jacket weather. For even though the dogwoods and redbuds are in bloom, and bursts of sparrows explode out of the trees and bushes, in the shadows there's a lingering coolness in the air. Only they don't care. For today is the maids' day off and they've congregated, in twos and threes and fours, to stop and gossip along the sidewalks and storefronts. Gone are their uniforms, the long white aprons and striped dresses and peaked caps. Gone are the mops and the dust rags, the yes ma'ams and the no sirs, and the lye soap, starch, and bluing. In their place are smiles and laughter, felt hats and bobbed hair. Today is a day to exhale.

They aren't the only ones out and about. Up and down Greenwood Avenue, a small parade of humanity can be seen. There are ditchdiggers and shop owners, a mother with young children, an old man-born a slave-with ancient eyes and an ash-gray beard. Preachers and hustlers, doctors and dishwashers, a newspaper reporter, a uniformed messenger, and a deputy sheriff can all be found within a five-block radius. Some are getting off work, others are shopping. From a window up above drifts the sound of a Victrola. Maybe it's Mamie Smith, the Harlem singing sensation, belting out "Crazy Blues." Or maybe it's a rag or a Mozart piano sonata. In a second-floor office in the Williams Building, a dentist carefully sets a burr into his drill. Two doors down, an attorney inks one last contract for the day and hands it to his secretary.


Welcome to Greenwood. Spring, 1921.

We are in Tulsa's African American district, home to fourteen churches, two schools, a hospital, a post office substation, four hotels, two newspapers, and at least ten thousand residents, with the number swelling each week. A dozen physicians and surgeons live and work in Greenwood, as do lawyers, insurance agents, real estate salesmen, and pharmacists. In the shops you can buy dresses and three-piece suits, straw hats and bench-made shoes, pipe tobacco and household goods, tools and typewriter ribbon, perfume, eyeglasses, and bottles of patent medicine. There are ten tailors, four shoe repair shops, one filling station, and one feed store. Nor does the district lack opportunities for entertainment. The Dixie Theater seats more than a thousand, while the Dreamland has seating for 750. Both offer motion pictures, musical performances, lectures, and vaudeville acts. Nearby are pool halls and speakeasies.

This is no food desert. There are thirty-eight grocery stores, fruit and vegetable stands, and meat markets. Thirty restaurants serve everything from sandwiches and plate lunches to steaks and chops with all the trimmings. There's the Red Wing CafŽ and Kelley's Lunch Counter, the Waffle House and Doc's Beanery, as well a slew of double-named eateries-Bell & Little, Grace & Warren, Hardy & Hardy, Newman & Howard, White & Black, White & Brown, Wright & Davidson-where ditchdiggers and dentists, chauffeurs and custodians all sidle up to the counter and place their orders. Afterward, diners can pick up some smokes at the Oquawka Cigar Store, or a bag of sweets or some ice cream at Loula Williams's confectionery.

It is said that in Greenwood, a dollar bill will change hands a dozen times before it ever leaves the district. But equally important, its residents need not face the indignities heaped upon them at the white-owned shops downtown-the sighs and furrowed brows of the impatient white clerks, the ones who follow you down the aisles, then won't let you try on clothes beforehand. Here in Deep Greenwood, as the main commercial blocks are called, African American shoppers can purchase clothes at Black-owned stores, drop off their dry cleaning and laundry at Black-owned cleaners, and have their portraits taken in a Black-owned photography studio. Here, there are Black doctors and Black nurses, Black teachers and a Black principal, Black plumbers and Black house carpenters. Whites sneeringly call the district "Little Africa," or worse.

Excerpted from The Ground Breaking by Scott Ellsworth. Copyright © 2021 by Scott Ellsworth. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Bad Cree
    Bad Cree
    by Jessica Johns
    Jessica Johns' debut novel Bad Cree was inspired by her desire to disprove the idea, suggested by an...
  • Book Jacket: The Terraformers
    The Terraformers
    by Annalee Newitz
    Sask-E is a planet that Verdance, a major terraforming company, has big plans for. Their business is...
  • Book Jacket: The Light Pirate
    The Light Pirate
    by Lily Brooks-Dalton
    The lynchpin of The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton, a novel split into four parts, is the main ...
  • Book Jacket: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On
    The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On
    by Franny Choi
    Calamity can cohabit with joy, and you and I have, on some plane, accepted that absurd reality. We ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Love of My Life
by Rosie Walsh
An up-all-night love story wrapped in a mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Ghosted.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    River Sing Me Home
    by Eleanor Shearer

    A remarkable debut about a mother's gripping journey across the Caribbean to find her stolen children in the aftermath of slavery.

  • Book Jacket

    Stealing
    by Margaret Verble

    A gut-punch of a novel about a Cherokee child removed from her family and sent to a Christian boarding school in the 1950s.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win French Braid

French Braid
by Anne Tyler

From the beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning author, a joyful journey deep into one Baltimore family's foibles.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

It's A G T Me

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.