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Reflections on “The Nation Must Awake”
Trinity University Press director/publisher recounts book’s impact 100 years after Tulsa Race Massacre
Friday, November 19, 2021

The acclaimed writer Margaret Atwood once said that “publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. . . . You never know who your readers might be.” 

This May, Trinity University Press published a landmark book, The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Mary E. Jones Parrish. Almost 100 years ago, Parrish undertook the momentous job of chronicling her and her neighbors’ experiences during the destruction of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood—also known as Black Wall Street. Hundreds of Black Oklahamans were murdered and buried in mass graves, thousands were left homeless, and millions of dollars in Black-owned property was bombed and burned to the ground. Parrish’s effort was an act of heroic civic service, and in 1923 she privately printed a book of these firsthand accounts with a print run of 26 copies. 

Today many of us struggle to understand not only how this violent episode in U.S. history came to pass, but also how it remained essentially invisible and not taught in history courses. “It is my sincere hope and desire that this book will open the eyes of the thinking people of America,” Parrish wrote. Her extraordinary effort to document the events of the Tulsa massacre is finally receiving the recognition it deserves, but it took 100 years.

It has been exciting to watch the response. Events marking the hundredth anniversary and Parrish’s work drew thousands of attendees. National and international media quickly recognized their responsibility to acknowledge and amplify Parrish’s long overlooked place in history. Anneliese M. Bruner, Parrish’s great-granddaughter, joined the project as the author of an afterword and served as a spokesperson for her matriarch. 

The story was featured by national news outlets such as Good Morning America, NPR’s Morning Edition, USA Today, Politico, Ms. magazine, CNN, and NAACP’s The Crisis, and by international media in England, Canada, Australia, India, Nigeria, China, and beyond. The New Yorker called the book “the first and most visceral long-form account of how Greenwood residents experienced the massacre,” while the New York Times said it was “a story of survival . . . relevant a century later.” Perhaps Parrish’s deepest hopes have come to pass.

'It is my sincere hope and desire that this book will open the eyes of the thinking people of America,' Parrish wrote. Perhaps Parrish’s deepest hopes have come to pass.

Tom Payton

The publication of this book was also a crucial moment for Trinity University Press. As publishers, we have areas of editorial focus for the work we acquire, curate, and publish. Reexamination of that is an ongoing process for every publisher, and in recent years we have shifted our internationally recognized emphasis on nature and the environment to what we refer to as “people, place, and planet.” This emphasis is more about the tangible connections between humans and our natural and built environments, especially critical now as we struggle with an increasingly blurred understanding of the importance of place to our basic sense of survival, belonging, and thriving.

Greenwood was an important place culturally, civically, and economically—one that was tragically destroyed, along with the agency of thousands of people. These incalculable losses demonstrate the influence of policy, politics, race, class, and other social constructs on our physical environments and human potential.

As a nonprofit, community-focused, educational/cultural organization, we’re proud to have discovered this important work by Mary Parrish and to play a role in bringing it to a wide audience. As we continue to grapple with issues of race underpinning our country’s history, the book’s publication has impacted us at Trinity University Press. It reminds us that the writing, publishing, and subsequent engagement with readers is constantly evolving, and it is critical that we intentionally seek underrepresented voices, under-reported experiences, and varying perspectives. More specifically, it calls us to commit more deeply to our responsibilities to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in what we publish and how we operate. Thank you, Mary Parrish.

Anneliese M. Bruner will speak at Trinity University in 2022. Stay tuned for more details!

Tom Payton is the director for Trinity University Press, a mission-driven publisher committed to civic engagement with timely ideas facilitated. 

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