The power to undo sin: race, history and literary blackness in Rilla Askew's Fire in Beulah.
A relatively new Oklahoma writer, Rilla Askew, follows the lead of fellow southwestern and western novelists who demythologize the assumptions of white power structures on the frontier. Her themes of racial and ecological tension are commensurate with similar issues found throughout American history of the southwest. Askew, a native Oklahoman, has set her first two novels, The Mercy Seat (1997) and Fire in Beulah (2001), in the Oklahoma landscape, a landscape that in no small way determines the actions of her characters. The Mercy Seat is set in pre-statehood, Indian Territory while Fire in Beulah is set in 1921, fourteen years after statehood, its plot climaxing with the historical event of the Tulsa race riot. In various interviews, Askew has made it clear that one of her purposes for writing is to convey a sense of accuracy about the shameful racial past of Oklahoma in hopes that a reconciliation between white and non-white peoples might occur. For example, she tells Brad Gambill:
My perspective on history has changed tremendously. Part of what has happened in this nation, especially for us as whites, is that we have tried to shut the door on all that. We have tried to say that it's in the past. Why don't they get a life? Why can't they let that go? What's happened is that we have never owned it, we have never dealt with it. In biblical terms, we've never repented of slavery and genocide, the slavery and genocide with which this nation was formed, and until we do, we can't talk about this. We can't get past it. Things won't change. (Askew 2001, 113)
Additionally, she has said, "Oklahoma is a microcosm of the nation. Our state history is a microcosm of what's happened on the whole continent. We can't separate it from the past" (2001, 114). In a yet-to-be published essay she explains:
In language and history and culture, Oklahoma is such an extreme distillation of what has taken place on this continent over the last five hundred years that it is nearly unrecognizable to the rest of the nation. Too Southern to be Midwestern, too Western to be Southern, too Midwestern to be purely Southwest, Oklahoma has kept the secret of its identity as a chameleon does. To the degree we've been seen by outsiders at all, it's been in stereotype--Curly and Laurie, the Joads, tornadoes and trailer trash, cowboys and Indians, dust: worn one-dimensional sketches which we ourselves have been too willing to adopt." (Askew 2005, 4)
Askew sees the implications of her fiction reaching farther than just a local story.
Askew's philosophical assumptions are Christian, and this somewhat sets her apart from many other contemporary writers of literary fiction. She overtly uses the terms "repentance" and "sin," yet her story is neither sentimental nor evangelistic. She weaves these Christian terms into a realistic narrative that challenges any presupposed notion of their efficacy. At the end of the novel, it is still unclear to what extent repentance occurs within the main character, Althea. Askew's imaging of the evil inherent within the racial conflict, however, clearly establishes the need for individual and collective repentance. While her prose is lyrical, similar to that of Cormac McCarthy, her plots and dialogue are harsh, though not as consistently graphic as McCarthy's. What she primarily has in common with McCarthy and others, however, is the virtual undoing of the supposed ethics of a dominant white race that encounters pre-existing cultures within the American frontier.
McCarthy, for example, routinely places young, somewhat naive, good-natured, American males who follow their codes of conduct in no-win, cross-cultural situations where their codes are revealed to be irrelevant and their heroic responses are rendered meaningless. McCarthy's characters suffer at the hands of Mexicans, suggesting the apparent futility of border crossing and the resulting existential wandering in a wasteland. Askew's characters are also depicted realistically with their existential burdens, but her authorial purpose is to raise the question of possible redemption and to keep alive the ideal of shared social space. McCarthy may personally have a similar goal, but if he does, it is disguised in the art of his compositional style (critics read him on a spectrum from nihilism to spiritualism). McCarthy's style is more ironic, certainly more pessimistic, on its face, than Askew's. Also, Askew, like McCarthy, has a workable sense of history on which she relies to fulfill her plots. I read Blood Meridian (1985), McCarthy's most obvious example of relying on historical data, (1) as a challenge to Enlightenment ideals. The deplorable actions by the Judge and the murderous Americans in that text are justified on the basis of material commodification, the characters paying lip-service to the vague notion of the greater good. They assume a right to capitalize at the expense of others, to exterminate indigenous groups while making legal and religious pronouncements that echo outdated notions of biological difference. As in Askew's Fire in Beulah, it is the educated, religious, economically prosperous members of the white society that either terrorize the under-classes, or at least refuse to intervene and prevent exploitation.
The fiction of Askew and McCarthy, then, seems to have similar ends in mind. Both serve to undermine assumptions of the past which could govern our understanding of the present. Their fiction is as demanding as any reading of history or cultural poetics.
In The Sense of An Ending, Frank Kermode suggests a society's contemporary view of itself is linked not only to its mythical past, but to its mythical future as well (1967, 18, 23, 26, 31). In other words, society has the power to determine its future, but such determination is frequently simply perceived to be a tragic, apocalyptic projection of the present disorder that finally gives way to chaos in the imagination of the masses. Or to say it in the vernacular of present-day fundamentalists and other apocalyptics: if one desires Armageddon, believes in it strongly enough, such catastrophe could be created. (2) Fictional endings, likewise, tend to follow mass cultural imaginings. The anxiety a society may feel about apocalyptic endings is related to fiction writers, who also must shape the endings of their texts to have some sense of "compliance" (63) with imagination and reality, however perceived. Kermode writes, "it is not that we are connoisseurs of chaos, but that we are surrounded by it, and equipped for coexistence with it only by our fictive powers" (64). Fictions "live" or "die" based on their ability to speak to a society's sense of chaos, and living fiction is distinct from myths, which lack the ability to speak to a contemporary society concerned with its future (64).
Askew's fiction is not apocalyptic in the popular futuristic sense; her vision for the present is optimistic. Her sense of an ending, though prominent, is secondary and therefore complementary to her primary vision for the present which she believes could alter popular notions of catastrophic, end-time endings. Her desire is for real reconciliation to occur between races in the present, but her sense of realism within her fiction suggests that the troubles of the past, which she accurately unearths from a suppressed history, must be accounted for. To fail to do so, is to move society one step closer to whatever cosmic disasters narrow, racist people can imagine. If the fiery culmination of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot could occur and its consequences be so largely ignored for so long, then who is to say what the future could hold if patterns of racial intolerance are not broken? Interestingly, Scott Ellsworth quotes an editorial from Challenge Magazine, October 1919 (two years before the riot): "Then when the mob comes, whether with torch or with gun, let us stand at Armageddon [italics added] and battle for the Lord" (1982, 24). Askew also writes apocalyptic language into the novel, in the warning voice of [the main character] Althea's husband on the day of the riot: "Dear God, can't you understand me? It's a race war! The coloreds are shooting white men, whites are breaking into pawnshops, they're arming themselves like it's Armageddon. She [Graceful] can't come up here, it's a battlefield all over downtown!" (2001, 301). Apocalyptic visions often imagine racial warfare.
The question before Askew's readers, then, concerns whether the potential for repentance, and racial healing is as realistic as her portrayal of characters within the history that precedes us to this point in time.
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Adam Nossiter concludes his article about the Tulsa Race Riot with the following words: "a society so deeply unreflective is capable of just about anything" (2001, 33). His statement summarizes a longstanding amnesia in Oklahoma concerning the shameful acts that occurred in the early part of the twentieth century. Nossiter indicts a serious lack of integrity on the part of journalism and a society that heretofore has chosen to promote a false sense of prosperity and piety rather than accurately remember the sins of the past.
Into this void, certain counter voices of historians have arisen such as Scott Ellsworth's Death in a Promised Land (1982), Eddie Faye Gates's They Came Searching (1997), Hannibal Johnson's Black Wall Street (1998), James Hirsch's Riot and Remembrance (2002), and Tim Madigan's The Burning (2001). These important attempts to accurately recall the racial tension and events of those days provide historical and contextual support for Askew's fiction.
Fire in Beulah blends history and fiction. Askew creates parallel stories of Althea, a neuvo riche white lady married to an oilman and her domestic, Graceful. Althea is ashamed of her impoverished, dysfunctional past, but projects her inadequacies onto Graceful, who also has familial issues that need attending. Relying on historical documents and events to shape the racist attitudes of the larger society related to her story, Askew focuses tightly on the intimate interactions between the often histrionic Althea and the silent, sullen Graceful. In the turn of events that forces Althea to reluctantly help Graceful survive on the climactic day of the riot, Askew's story challenges the assumptions of white supremacy by showing the potential for reversal and reconciliation within her white protagonist and by demonstrating the determination and grace of her maid whose life and social status are finally, somewhat appreciated.
Askew's novel follows another Oklahoma author, Linda Hogan, whose novel, Mean Spirit (1990), also makes significant use of historical data. Hogan's plot, like Askew's, focuses on oil and violence. Hogan relies on the string of unsolved murders of members of the Osage tribe during the early years of the state's history. (3) Like Askew, Hogan generates sympathy by positing characters at the mercy of various ominous historical factors upon which she builds her narrative. Both writers accomplish the dual purpose of informing readers of unpleasant historical data while casting fictitious plots that honor the landscape and characters who tend to be overlooked in provincial writing. Both writers value the use of irony to underscore the eventual righteousness of the victims and to memorialize the processes of greed that caused the victimization.
The fact that Askew and Hogan are fiction writers, as opposed to journalists or historians, does not (nor should it) deter readers from understanding their comparable mission to bring Oklahoma to its knees in repentance for past racial sins. Because race is such an ambiguous subject having potentially hostile undertones and because their episodes are rather particular in nature, using the historical fiction genre guards them from unjustified suspicion and protects them from casual readers who think the status quo in race relations is somehow acceptable. Their use of historical fiction allows sufficient freedom of creativity while grounding the material in verifiable history, thus making a powerful appeal to readers on multiple levels. The historicity embedded in their plots has important psychological implications for a society that must face the ugly past it would rather not remember. Judith Herman (1992) writes:
The knowledge of horrible events periodically intrudes into public awareness but is rarely retained for long. Denial, repression, and disassociation operate on a social as well as an individual level. The study of psychological trauma has an 'underground' history. Like traumatized people, we have been cut off from the knowledge of our past. Like traumatized people, we need to understand the past in order to reclaim the present and the future. Therefore, an understanding of psychological trauma begins with rediscovering history. (qtd. in Thompson 2002, 297)
The merging of history and fiction by these authors confronts individual readers on multiple levels, but it also collectively addresses a state that has chosen to suppress its history and romance its myths. Much energy continues to be spent in Oklahoma to sentimentalize the story of statehood. The romance of the land runs, the appropriation of Native-American iconography and language, the ignorance and neglect of black townships (4) and the assumed right of the oil industry to squelch its own suspicious history are some areas where a particular version of the white, mainstream story is told at the expense of the stories of the other cultures within the state.
Askew and Hogan boldly confront such sentimental, willful ignorance. Both achieve their purposes because they do more than just paraphrase history. Hogan creates characters who live in two overlapping worlds, the spirit world and the material world as defined and controlled by the white oil structure (Fitz 2002, 2). Hogan's characters exhibit a special spiritual quality because of their ability to negotiate two worlds simultaneously. Their negotiation, of course, is necessary if the tribe is to survive and remain on the changing landscape currently being overrun. One of Hogan's characters, Michael Horse, exemplifies the dual existence of the Osage by his attempt to "fix" the Christian Bible. His "Book of Horse" adds what is lacking to the Bible (despite the protests of Father Dunne). As Fitz concludes, Horse's "act of fixing the Bible documents the general process of selectively incorporating elements from the dominant culture into a Native perspective" (6). Functionally, then, the "Book of Horse" supersedes the grace of Christianity, and the holistic views of the Osage trump the misuse of Christianity displayed in the novel. Hogan implies that Christianity, as often exhibited during the oil boom years in the young state, has little redeeming value given the events that have terrorized the Osage, their land and their culture. Askew, similarly challenges the manipulation of Christianity as an oppressive tool, but she seems comfortable with allowing traditional Christian concepts such as repentance to redeem the violence of the past.
Askew's narrative approach goes a step further. She accomplishes the difficult task of appropriating the role of blackness in her narrative voice. In the words of Derrida, she "speak[s] the other's language without renouncing [her] own" (qtd. in Gates, 1992, 66). Derrida's words, however, have not been readily applicable for white authors writing black characterization and plots.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Toni Morrison have often demonstrated that blackness itself becomes a signifier, and black texts retain a unique intrinsic, self-reflexive critical stance that must be appropriated. (5) This notion is central to Gates's discussion in The Signifying Monkey (1988) and in Morrison's Playing in the Dark (1993). Similarly, in Loose Canons, Gates argues that "Race has become a trope of ultimate, irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or practitioners of specific belief systems, who more often than not have fundamentally opposed economic interests. Race is the ultimate trope of difference because it is so very arbitrary in its application" (1992, 49). He introduces The Signifying Monkey with a related claim:
The black tradition has inscribed within it the very principles by which it can be read. Ours is an extraordinarily self-reflexive tradition, a tradition exceptionally conscious of its history and of the simultaneity of its canonical texts, which tend to be taken as verbal models of the Afro-American social condition, to be revised. (Gates 1988, xxiv)
Because of concerns related to this tradition, Askew must then appropriate blackness as signifier if she is to successfully write the black experience into fiction. The nuances of what is signified, generally the oppression of people whose history predates Oklahoma statehood, needs to be specifically attended in matters of dialogue and scene development if the blackness of the novel is to succeed. Her attempts should satisfy the concerns of Gates and Morrison. She faithfully dignifies a people whose history entitles them to claim Oklahoma as their Promised Land. Such careful signification is necessary, obviously, since the non-white claim to Oklahoma remained unfulfilled for so long. Askew's fiction subverts a flattering mainstream projection of itself, an image based on the deeply entrenched notion in the Southwest that non-whites being biologically and culturally inferior.
Askew's Fire in Beulah could be read as a modern variation, or at least a logical extension, of the slave narrative that gives voice to the African-American struggle, reasserting the crimes of 1921 onto the consciousness of a reading public. (6) As "blacks ... tried to write themselves out of slavery" (Gates 1992, 66), Askew writes them out of the obscurity of a hidden traumatic past in Tulsa and environs where Jim Crow laws and a "conspiracy of silence" (Madigan qtd. in Nossiter 2001, 33) had suspiciously and effectively maintained a master-slave hegemony.
Askew exercises a remarkable risk in crossing over into the domain of the other. Despite the understandable notion of some African American critics that black history, characterization and dialogue should remain in the domain of black authors, Askew nonetheless, pursues her course. The obvious narrative distance (between black reader and white author, black character and white author, black character and white reader, history and contemporary society, etc.) (7) is bridged somewhat by the overt narration (informing of historical details) with which Askew writes. In Fire in Beulah, she mostly uses an omniscient narration that informs the reader of the relevant historical contexts and social milieu. Though she might be criticized for a sometimes "overwrought style" (Nossiter 2001, 33), her narrative approach is clearly subversive. Her subversiveness makes sense when her plot structure is considered: parallel stories of two women from opposing classes and cultures reverse the presupposed positions of each character and the culture and class each represents.
Additionally, Askew breaks her omniscient narration at various points to bring readers closer to eyewitness characters, both white and non-white, who tell their various, specific versions of historical events in dramatic monologues. These interspersed monologues offer readers multiple perspectives of the general social nexus as well as the particular episode in question. The combination of a strong, historically informed, third-person narrative voice with particular first-person accounts gives readers a pronounced sense of injustice and dramatizes the overt violence and covert attitudes. Askew, therefore, is able to convey much of the burden of history through characterization and dialogue. For example, a significant counter voice to white dominance is offered by a mixed-blood character, Iola Bloodgood Bullet Tiger, whose land is the target of hostile intentions by oil speculators. Her speeches reveal a critical difference between white and Native views of land as well as her fearful suspicion of the white power structure:
Just a white piece of paper with writing on it. Ain't it strange how much power whitemens put in a piece of paper? Someplace there's a paper say that worthless swatch of Deep Fork bottom belong to me, another piece somewhere say all this land in Oklahoma belongs to Indian people as long as the waters run. Just depends on which piece of paper you paying attention to- or which piece they intend you to pay attention to: which one they want you to sign. (Askew 2001,197)
Another example comes from an unnamed, white, man-on-the-street character, who witnessed the events on the day of the riot:
This bunch of colored boys came right directly at us, and when they got to where our bunch was knotted up there on the steps they didn't even flinch but just kept coming, straight up to the door. I'm surprised it didn't start that minute. I'm surprised somebody didn't haul off and start shooting right then, and I don't know why somebody didn't. I reckon we were too dadgum surprised. And then these Negroes had the gall to offer their services to the sheriff! You believe that? It's the devil's own truth. They'd come up to see if the sheriff needed their help to protect that colored boy up yonder on the top floor! (Askew 2001, 295)
This quote echoes a longstanding view that aggressive African Americans started the riot, and are therefore responsible for the complete burning of Greenwood (Ellsworth 1982, 49ff).
Askew's fiction (like McCarthy's and Hogan's) challenges the presuppositions of the "natural difference" theory of race which sadly has never been fully expunged in Oklahoma and the greater Southwest. Her rhetoric requires the possibility of change for the sake of healing and future peace, but her realistic storytelling demands integrity, so a question of whether her characters fully transform (or should, given the narrative contexts) remains. In Fire in Beulah, after her considerable racist acts and speeches, Althea finally recognizes herself as a potential agent of social change. By implication, such a character embodies the potential of readers, who, having been enlightened on the racial history of Oklahoma, now must respond to a similar recognition as that occurring to Althea in the pivotal passage of the novel:
Althea felt suddenly that she held in her hands the power to undo sin. Her own sin, the past. She pulled her arms in, put the baby over her shoulder, muffling his cries; gently she patted his back. In a clear, calm voice she said, "this baby's starving. He's got to nurse." Graceful met her gaze, and the whole history passed between them, separate, skewed, held in common: the single narrative of their bound-together lives. (Askew 2001, 346)
This passage occurs late in the novel as the race riot is occurring. Graceful feels compelled to return to her family in Greenwood despite the shooting and burning. Her unwanted, newborn child is a burden to her since it would be impossible to care for a starving infant while desperately trying to escape on foot a dangerous mob of Negro-hating men. This scene is one of several situations in which a role reversal between Althea and Graceful occurs. The helpless baby becomes symbolic of the commonality of human flesh that potentially binds the two women, and by extension, the white and non-white races.
Askew makes much use of role reversal and crossing into the social contexts of the other as a subversive strategy of her writing. A peculiar example of crossing occurs in a black church scene where an ignorant white woman sits through the service as various leaders talk openly about the lynching mentality within the state. After various speeches, the white woman weakly stands to her feet and speaks hesitantly: "I just wanted to say to you, that ... I feel ... terribly ... sorry. I'm just so ... sorry" (2001, 144). The lady's presence suggests a symbolic understanding of the Christian experience in Oklahoma tainted by ignorance and isolation. The prevalence of Christianity in Oklahoma should have made common ground possible for whites and non-whites, but the opposite was the usual case. Christian imagery and language were routinely used to justify racial difference and segregated social space. Askew's novel depicts another important distinction in the Christian experience of Oklahoma's past. For the non-white congregations, church was often a place where social concerns were voiced and the collective call for racial survival was as important (if not more so) as individual salvation.
Askew's use of history, especially with her attention to the religious factors within Oklahoma history, follows the tradition established by prominent Oklahoma writer Ralph Ellison. Ellison's posthumously published Juneteenth (1999) allegorizes the black experience throughout American history. (8) In particular, Ellison understands the migration of many blacks to Oklahoma who saw Indian Territory as their Beulah. (9) Even before the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks knew that "freedom was ... to be found in the West of the old Indian Territory.... Long before it became the State of Oklahoma the Territory had been a sanctuary for runaway slaves who sought there the protection of the Five Great Indian Nations" (1986, 131-32).
In Juneteenth, Ellison's white supremacist character, Senator Sunraider and African- American, Rev. Hickman, embody the question of whether politics or religion can be a means to liberation. Raised to be the spiritual son of Rev. Hickman, Senator Sunraider (as a child he was known as Bliss) has left his spiritual grounding in the Oklahoma soil to realize his personal quest to become a senator of a northeastern state. In the process, his identity has changed from that of an innocent boy in an intimate, fatherly relationship with Hickman to a bigot who manipulates race issues to secure his political stature. Hickman's congregation nurtured the senator and provided a place where the boy preacher developed his spirituality and oratory abilities, apparently to follow in his "father's" footsteps. Ellison's story, then, allegorizes this broken, family tragedy, as years later, Hickman sits by the dying senator's bed. Much of the bedside dialogue and revealed memory in the novel displays Hickman's belated attempt to help the wayward Senator recover his sense of true identity. Hickman believes that one's identity is a composition of place and soul. He recognizes that his beloved Bliss has grown into an unlovely racist, who in the process, has denied his spiritual and geographical roots. Ellison's story, however, suggests the tragic futility of evading history both on a personal and societal level. In other words, one's spirituality is intricately linked with the place of origin. In the black experience, the oppression one endures ironically creates the graceful energy to overcome it. The aging minister contemplates the implications of misguided souls and lost identities:
After having been born so close to the time of whips and cold iron shackles we could fly up here in an airplane--which is like the promise of a miracle fulfilled--Which is no longer miraculous--but still there on the bed lies the old abiding mystery in its latest form and still mysterious. Why'm I here, Master? Why? And how is it that a man [Sunraider] like him, who has learned so much and gone so far, never learned the simple fact that it takes two to make a bargain or to bury a hatchet, or even to forget words uttered in dedication and taken deep into the heart and made sanctified by suffering? Blood spilled in violence doesn't just dry and drift away in the wind, no! It cries out for restitution, redemption. (Ellison 1999, 271)
Ellison depicts a man who crossed racial barriers for the sake of political expediency, and in the process, he has denied the truth of himself and betrayed the righteousness of the African American cause. Finally, Ellison suggests that restitution and redemption are the vital elements missing from Senator Sunraider's life, which is to say that spiritual qualitites are essential to black liberation and potential harmony between the races.
Askew, like Ellison, connects an honest implementation of Christianity with the hope for racial toleration. Moreover, both authors depict the truest expressions of Christian virtue within their African-American characters whose endurance of racial intolerance justifies their esteemed places in the novels.
Another example of crossing barriers occurs when Althea finds herself in the office of a black newspaper in Greenwood. It is here that she encounters professional blacks who are unmoved by her histrionic behavior, yet they are obligated to help her given the nature of Jim Crow society (Askew 2001, 156ff). Shortly thereafter, Althea finds herself at Graceful's house. Uninvited, she simply barges into the empty home, showing little concern for the fact of individual ownership or privacy. Yet it is in this crossing, as Althea pokes around in the home of Graceful's mother, that she begins to recognize that Graceful is a person with a "history" rather than a dehumanized object that exists to serve Althea's whims (167). By the use of crossing scenes such as these, Askew seeks to undo the master-slave hegemony operative within Althea as representative of the white power structure. (10)
Shared pain is another strategy that Askew uses to crumble the hierarchy that objectifies blacks. Pain is an equalizer. Physical pain of child birth is graphically displayed as is the emotional pain of unwanted births that are the result of rape. Askew develops three birth scenes in the novel. These suggest both inter and intra-racial violence with the accompanying emotional pain of regretable individual histories that characters futilely try to repress. Both Graceful and Althea share the same last name (Whiteside). Both are trying to make sense out of their inherited familial dysfunction, and both are intimately aware of problematic births occurring under mysterious circumstances. Askew's depiction of emotional and physical pain serves to unite the characters in a shared world where survival is more important than social hierarchies.
Each of the novel's three birth scenes may be seen in correlation to different periods of ethnic history in Oklahoma. The first suggests the transition from slavery to a chaotic freedom within the new territory that is supposed to be promised land. The second would then suggest the Jim Crow society in early statehood. The final birth scene occurs in the midst of the riot, in chaos that attempts to destroy the pride and progress of black entrepreneurship and commerce in Greenwood and places the survival of black society in jeopardy. Taken together, these imply that Oklahoma's heritage is mixed, and that the painful transition to a new status, from migration to statehood, has been a difficult, bloody path for non-whites to say the least. Angie Debo, in And Still The Waters Run (1980), writes about racial tension as the realization of statehood grew imminent:
It is doubtful if any other people ever longed for that magic goal [statehood] with the intensity of the white inhabitants of the Indian Territory. A white population very much larger than that of any state at the time of its admission to the Union had been living under conditions of political dependence never experienced before by a frontier settlement ... the new government was established without their [tribal leaders] participation. The vigorous young commonwealth that came so lustily into the Union soon realized its ambition of dealing with its own problems of Indian administration. (Debo 1940, 159)
One could only hope that the newborn future, though clearly uncertain, might at least be worth the pain of the violent cross-cultural encounters.
Oklahoma, like her sister states of the American Southwest, has both a biologically and socially-mixed heritage, though the Oklahoma experience is even more pronounced and contested given its relatively late admission to statehood and the variety of cultures involved. The many eastern tribes forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830's, along with tribes native to Oklahoma prairies, migrating free blacks, mixed-bloods and late nineteenth-century European immigrants all were promised a stake in Oklahoma Territory. Moreover, cultural mixing further occurred through intermarriage.
A way to increase one's landholding was through inter-racial marriage, the allotment of the native wife, for instance, transferring to a white husband. (11) Concerning the legal manipulation of this complex issue by the mainstream powers, Angie Debo documents the new legislation that went into effect May 27, 1908 that divided allottees into three classes:
whites, freedmen, and mixed-bloods of less than one-half Indian blood were released from all restrictions; mixed-bloods of one-half or more and less than three-fourths Indian blood were free to sell their surplus, but their homesteads remained inalienable; and Indians of three-fourths or more Indian blood were restricted in all their holdings. (Debo 1940,179).... The immediate effect of the law of 1908 was a new orgy of buying land from allottees too innocent or too thriftless to protect themselves against their new freedom. But the most significant result was the enormous increase in opportunities for exploitation through the courts. Moreover the fact that much of the land was now legally alienable created a stronger inducement to secure it; and a speculator who had obtained temporary control of large areas through legal or almost legal leases might now resort to forgery, kidnaping, or even murder to acquire permanent possession. An enormous inducement to crime arose from the increasing value of oil property. (Debo 1940, 181)
By means legal and illegal, moral and immoral, Oklahoma's heritage has been socially and biologically mixed from the beginning. This fact complicates the drama inherent in the fiction of Askew. It also makes the moral pronouncements embedded within her fiction appropriate.
The mixed heritage is most graphically depicted by Askew's character Japheth, Althea's brother, an oilfield roughneck, a scoundrel who participates in a lynching and who steals allotments from Natives. His most memorable scene in the novel occurs when he shows up uninvited at a masquerade ball, hosted by a wealthy oilman. The host, and others dress in stereotypical Indian costumes with full war bonnet feathered head-dress presumably to celebrate their conquering of the land and its inhabitants which has made possible the amazing new wealth driving the Tulsa economy. Dress is a recurring theme in Fire in Beulah that may be analyzed in interesting ways. For example, the Osage do not wear feathered bonnets, so the ignorance of the party-goers suggests their disdain for the particulars of the culture being overrun. It seems to be a manner of celebrating the spoils of conquering, the conquerors wearing the stereotypical costumes of the conquered. Of course, masks also hide the true face of those attending the masquerade party, and so suggests their duplicity, which they evidently cannot see. The social blindness on display at the party underscores Askew's concern for cultural awareness. "This scene" is one of several ironic moments that govern the moral thrust of her novel.
Japeth appears to be something of a village idiot, yet he is keen and murderous. His grotesque and unwanted birth, witnessed by Althea, seems to have shaped his insightful but violent attitude toward life. He has borne a life-long grudge against his sister that has now become even more pronounced as he envies her and those of her new social status. He appears at the ball with his face painted half white and half black, wearing a noose around his neck. His presence effectively ends the party, suggesting the truth of hidden activities now graphically signified for the guests. Japheth is manipulative and murderous, but ironically, throughout the novel he speaks the truth, scoffing at would-be moralists and hypocritical socialites who he knows practice legally-justified thievery and tacit communal lynching. Given the history of a society where individual ownership of land is foreign to Natives and where the signing of papers is silly at best, and signifies betrayal and violence at its worst, Japheth's role is constructive as a source of irritation to the powerful money people who of course document their business transactions on paper. His voice questions the morality of the legal practices because he knows that the laws are made by those who have financial interests in subduing the non-white population. Askew's vision of the tension between law and morality is somewhat similar to McCarthy's Blood Meridian, where the use of documentation graphically signifies the oppressive legal style of Judge Holden and the representatives of supposed civilization to justify and legalize the otherwise brutal actions that accompany the conquest of territory. Askew's truth-speaking monster, Japheth, exposes the facade of the civilizing process that has governed too much of frontier history. The ugly past cannot be ignored, especially when it portends potential for future unrest.
The use of the grotesque magnifies the concerns of the novel, effectively demonstrating the implied logical conclusions of latent racism that at any time could resort to lynching if a situation were deemed worthy on the part of the mainstream majority. Concerning the role of the grotesque in fiction, Cassuto writes:
The grotesque is a threat to the system of knowledge by virtue of its liminal position within that system. This liminality demands resolution; for a human being caught between the categories of human and thing, the pressure will be exerted toward a return to the human category, for that is the only choice that offers the possibility of resolution. (qtd. in Thomson 2002, 296)
In Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying (1993), the grotesque element concerns Jefferson's self-appropriation, literally as a hog on the jail floor asking for corn, thereby reducing himself to the level where his accusers have placed him. The grotesque in Fire in Beulah is more dramatic, but no less dehumanizing. Japheth's staging of a lynching effectively signifies both means and end to the audience because of the Jim Crow society whose collective citizenry failed to consistently denounce lynching, and whose customs implied that lynching might serve as a viable means of control, a constant threat to blacks and other outsiders. As historical accounts confirm, Askew's novel suggests that lynching often functioned, at least subliminally, as carnivalistic sideshows because of the victims' perceived lack of humanity. In "Anatomy of an Oklahoma Lynching." Lowell Blaisdell writes: "One concept holds that poorer whites obtained social gratification from the pursuit of a person lower on the social scale than themselves. Another is that the lack of amusements or variety in early-twentieth-century rural conditions ... gave impetus to extralegal killings as a species of entertainment" (2001, 301). (12) Interestingly, one of Althea's few redeeming qualities seems evident, at least potentially, early in the novel when she is distressed at the notions of lynching. Her view contrasts with that of her socialite friend who relishes the carnival atmosphere and who was a gleeful observer of Japheth's costume at the ball.
Askew's narrative is further comparable to Gaines's novel in that it contains events that pose both a systemic and individual threat to the dignity of an African American character. In Gaines's story, the successful transformation of Jefferson is comparable to the dignity displayed in Askew's character Graceful, who refuses to submit herself to the pitying bribes of her workers. She labors in silence as a protest against a system that attempts to control and define her. She endures the economic necessity of domestic labor under the rueful guise of her racist bosses, but she refuses to capitulate to the condescending attitude of her employers. In fact, her employers eventually resort to begging Graceful to return to work for them, offering her well above the going rate of remuneration. Thus, in her own individual way, Graceful achieves and retains subjectivity by refusing to submit willingly to her oppressors despite her situation. One could argue that Graceful is the protagonist of the novel, that it is her purposeful single-mindedness to which Althea must constantly adjust. A plausible contention could be offered that the story is Graceful's story. As determiner of her own world and thus of her extended family and of her white employers, she embodies the pride of a black community that refuses to dignify a Jim Crow system. The gracefulness of Askew's character is readily contrasted to the clumsy, inept qualities so evident in Althea. Graceful determines to be subject, not object, within her immediate context although she must continue to be reflexive, adjusting to the whims of white power structures. Finally, it is primarily Althea who needs a new understanding of race and culture.
Writing about Gaines's novel, Carlyle Thompson explores the notions of "ritualistic lynching" and "communal rape" (2002, 282). She argues that the "oppression" under "Jim Crowism" makes:
black skin color a badge of degradation. Local ordinances in the North and South restricted black people from earning competitive incomes, and without sufficient income, few were able to secure decent food, education, health care, and housing. Under Jim Crowism, black people are killed before they die; the daily humiliation they experience represents ritualistic lynching. (Thompson 2002, 282)
Similar concerns implied in Askew's novel are significant given the history of the legislature in the new state of Oklahoma that made Jim Crow legislation its first order of business once statehood was granted. (13)
The notions of ritualistic, communal lynching and/or raping are especially important if one sees the Jim Crow era as a frustrated attempt to retain the pseudo scientific-philosophical notions of biological difference of previous eras that justified the enslavement of Africans due to their supposed status as less than human. Thompson asserts:
In America black men are especially affected by the physical, psychological, and economic violence of white supremacy because they often feel powerless when they cannot safeguard and provide for their families. Like the brutal lynching-burnings where black men are disembodied, castrated, and consumed, the daily socioeconomic oppression that black men experience becomes a communal rape by whites, especially white males who project their sexual desires and apprehensions onto the bodies of black men .... the bodies of black males become sites for fearful whites to release their castrating depravity. (Thompson 2002, 282-83)
Though the legality of slavery had passed, the hegemony of master-slave still operated in the consciousness of the white power structure. African Americans continued to pay the "ethnocidal price of slavery and the neodulotic Jim Crow system" (qtd. in Thompson 282). Althea considers Graceful to be her "girl" just as Jefferson is "boy" to the judge, jury and community in Gaines's novel.
Askew brings this ugly history to bear on her fictive characters, and similarly to Gaines, her vision points to racial reconciliation. Her novel also shares similarities with the white southern racial conversion narrative as examined by Fred Hobson. Hobson's study, primarily focuses on autobiographies or "very personal social commentaries" in which southern-born white writers "come to terms with racial guilt--their own and their region's" (1999, xiii). He notes how these writers largely come from the protestant South and how they frequently use religious terms such as "sin, guilt, blindness, seeing the light, repentance and redemption" (2). Hobson recognizes that such writers tend to appropriate evangelical language of individual conversion to comment on a social conversion concerning black-white relations on a societal level, the sins being "more social than personal" (4).
Hobson's investigation of nonfiction takes its bearings in Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, perhaps the most famous racial conversion story. Like Twain's narrative, Askew's fiction exhibits ambiguity concerning race and repentance. Twain's "narrator/protagonist ... never fully realizes that he is converted" (1999, 6). Similarly, it remains uncertain to what extent a change occurs in Askew's Althea. Fictional characters cannot, of course, have the same dynamic effect that personal testimonies have by those southern authors discussed by Hobson, yet, Askew's personal story along with her imaginative powers that created Althea do point to the social necessity and possibility of radical change--the change that Askew personally desires, at least the kind of change that might have prevented the burning of Greenwood. One could argue that Althea's epiphany referred to above in "the power to undo sin" passage, is too simplistic, too easily realized given the contentious racial distance presented throughout the preceding pages of the novel. What prevents Althea's newfound grace from functioning simply as deus ex machina? The answer partly depends on one's interpretation of the last thirty pages of the novel.
In those concluding pages, after Althea recognizes her potential ability to "undo sin," it is clear that she still wants Graceful to work for her, though supposedly she has a newfound respect for Graceful's situation. The last pages of the novel emphasize Graceful's self-actualization as Althea's interests become secondary. Graceful's future, including her decision to leave Althea, to live with her new husband in a black township rather than Tulsa, punctuates the final pages. Despite the possible economic sacrifices, Graceful and her new baby and husband determine to live in their own setting, on their own terms, leaving Althea to tend her garden and to make her way in the post-riot days. By the end of the novel, Althea sees Graceful as a person rather than as an object, and that in itself is evidence of considerable progress. To use Toni Morrison's words, Askew "avert[s] the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject" (1993, 90). Askew's fiction is discomforting; it explores "a disrupting darkness" (91) concerning cultural attitudes, and so it must leave the reader with an ambiguous Althea who has seen new light concerning racial interaction, but who still is a product of her time. She embodies potential, but her future actions regarding race are uncertain, left to the imagination of the reader. Meanwhile Graceful's future is also in question. She will have to overcome the economic fallout of the riot and the attitudes of racial hatred that continue to burn.
Considering the historical accounts of brutality along with the real language and real situations that Askew writes into her novel, the ambiguous ending seems appropriate rather than idealistic. Askew suggests the same hope for reconciliation that Gaines exhibits in his novels, and she wants readers to experience racial conversions not unlike the autobiographical writings referred to above. But she is writing realistic fiction. To be realistic, fiction must hold out the possibility of failure, the possibility that racial healing is not always achieved, while at the same time writing the hopeful possibility into consciousness. At least Askew's character moves toward what Ed Piacentino recognizes as "common humanity," a state "whereby white characters reject the racial status quo by practicing tolerance and compassion (2004, 73ff). The language and tone after Althea's epiphany is softer, less anxiety-ridden and suggests a respect for Graceful's decision-making process as well as an implied blessing for her future. Kermode insists that despite the attempts at realism, "any novel,... involves some degree of alienation from 'reality'" (1967, 50). The fictions and their endings are always the product of the author, and as such, endings are not usually successful if they are arbitrarily leveled on the reading public as fact. It is the power of characterization and plot that helps convince readers of the possibilities of accepting or rejecting an author's realism. In other words, "the show of satisfaction will only serve when there seems to be a degree of real compliance with reality as we, from time to time, imagine it" (63). Fictions force us to recognize that "it is ourselves we are encountering whenever we invent fictions," and that fictions, "if successful, make sense of the here and now" (39).
Askew's sense of ending concerns the degree of possible change in Althea, and the possibility of change has to do with the definition of a character. How Althea is defined in the novel before and after her epiphany is an important consideration. Before that question can be fully answered, however, a precursory question must first be addressed: the question of defining white and black in a novel that celebrates the dignity of an oppressed race despite living at the mercy of a Jim Crow society.
Toni Morrison addresses this question eloquently, saying that "literary blackness" (1993, xii) is made in its oppositional and reactionary status as object to white American literature and criticism that defined itself as subject. In the process, American literature largely ignored the African presence in America (6). A reciprocal and ironic relationship, then, exists: whiteness in literature is defined by its failure to recognize non-white presence in society, or by intentionally refusing to see blackness as a potential for subject rather than object.
Morrison specifically takes literary critics to task, but an implication of her analysis suggests the need for the wider community of readers and writers to understand and pay close attention to how the so-called "tropes of darkness" (1993, 14) affect literary enterprises. American literature has frequently relied on the assumed mechanism of a constructed African presence in America as a handy way of referring to chaos, evil or disorder (7), or it has awkwardly ignored the presence of non-white reality (9), assuming that silence on the subject is a "generous,... "liberal gesture" (10). In contrast, Morrison calls on readers, critics and novelists to openly address the fact of the black presence implied in the contexts of American literature, for both its affect on the oppressed but also its affect on the oppressor (12). She claims, "the contemplation of this black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination" (5). Morrison echoes Ellison's remarks first published in Time, 1970, where he argues that without blacks in America, "certain creative tensions arising from the cross-purposes of whites and blacks would also not have existed" (1986, 109). One of his points is that America's culture, especially its politics and literature would never have evolved as it has. Without the black presence in American history, he concludes that we would not have had the works of Twain, Faulkner, Crane, among others (109-110). It is in the tension of black/white relations that American democracy ironically survives because blacks "symbolize both its most stringent testing and the possibility of its greatest freedom" (112).
Clearly, Askew considers the presence of blackness within the historical and literary context of her novel, and her writing considers negative effects on the oppressor, not just the oppressed. She bravely encounters black tropes so easily misunderstood and so ripe with vulgar political overtones. (14) Her depiction of Graceful suggests careful attention to not only the socialization of a black domestic in Tulsa in the early twentieth century, but perhaps even more importantly, the characterization focuses on an inner life not merely defined by whiteness. Graceful is not just a stock character fulfilling a domestic role in the history of the riot. Neither is she a black character painted with the brush of literary whiteness, existing only to further a myth of racial difference, celebrating ignorance. It is clear that Graceful's story matters. Askew's novel is a serious attempt to authenticate Graceful as a real person with real concerns. Additionally, Askew's novel compels readers to investigate Morrison's "tropes of darkness" surrounding Graceful's presence in the novel if they are to understand the plot, not to mention the meta-textual historical concerns. Askew provides voice, context and perspective to a heretofore silenced story of destruction and violence against blacks in Oklahoma. Fire in Beulah is as much Graceful's story as it is Althea's.
Amplifying the concerns raised by Gates, Morrison says that white members of the American literature scene present a "choked representation of an Africanist presence" (1993, 17). She wonders how a white writer can image an Afro-American presence in meaningful ways other than just "backdrop" (16). Askew's novel, however, is no "fabricated brew of darkness" (38). It does more than just represent blackness as backdrop; it does more than project white guilt or mainstream issues of assimilation or passive acceptance onto the audience in the name of blackness. Instead, her novel focuses on blackness as subject, as a reason to read the book itself. In doing so, she ironically and subversively shows white malaise and demise, all the while demonstrating a resilient strength of the surviving black culture. Fire in Beulah is about strong black characters who are reluctantly and unjustly brought into confrontation with greedy, fearful, weak whites. Many of Askew's black characters are newspapermen, eloquent ministers, doctors, entrepreneurs and soldiers15 who exhibit patience and tolerance while her white characters tend to be busy, nervous, shifty, greedy, divisive and fragmented (as Japheth's painted face so powerfully symbolizes).
Morrison argues that a black presence in America "enriched the country's creative possibilities. For in that construction of blackness ... could be found not only the not-free but also, with the polarity created by skin color, the projection of the not-me" (1993, 38). The desire for freedom in young America found a "resident population" available "upon which the imagination could play; through which historical, moral, metaphysical, and social fears, problems, and dichotomies could be articulated" (37). In other words, the nuances of an national identity that found its way into American literature, came into existence because of the suppressed black presence within the country. The result has been the subject/object dichotomy so prevalent for so long. Morrison refers to the Emersonian "new white man" in America (39), the residual effect of such blind self-definition following settlers throughout the southwest.
Askew's novel demonstrates a restless social nexus in which available land and new oil money fueled the desires for freedom that unfortunately spilled over into greedy lasciviousness and naive indulgences that divided life into categories of white and non-white. Askew suggests that Oklahoma's rise to statehood from Indian Territory was viewed by whites as a logical extension of earlier American history, its pattern of expansion replayed in Oklahoma's fledgling economy where the gains of the emerging white power structure were understood to naturally be shadowed by the objectification and negative social positioning of non-whites standing in the way of progress. In Askew's historical fiction, being not black means one has permission to exercise the unmitigated pursuit of wealth, the justification to falsify oil lease claims on black, Indian and mixed-blood land as the empire of white Tulsa was built in the process.
Given the analysis of black critics cited in this paper, Askew's novel is unique, starkly opposed to other romantic versions of the Oklahoma story. Indeed, her ability to voice the story of black and mixed-blood Americans during this early part of the state's history is significant, especially considering the coverup of the real history of this event. Askew should be read because she renders impotent popular myths, on the one hand, while on the other hand, she reconstructs the oft-ignored history of blacks in Oklahoma. Her novel effectively undercuts notions of a supposed superior white economy in Oklahoma as a result of self-determination. She exposes the faulty premises of such notions by placing blacks, Indians and mixed-bloods as subjects, thereby reducing the lofty claims of white aggression to a more realistic status as thieves, manipulators of law and custom. Emerson's "new white man" is stripped of his self-righteousness, his often ill-gotten economic status which is rightly shown to be the result of chance, selective crediting processes or theft as much as ingenuity.16 Askew's representations of several black characters follows historical precedents, and thus they are not absolutely imaginative. Nonetheless, her crossing over to become functionally a black author is a symbolic and sympathetic attempt to correct false views of Oklahoma history. In doing so, she collapses the longstanding dichotomy between literary blackness and whiteness. Her writing itself is an act of repentance.
(1) See Sepich (1983).
(2) Bill McKibben notes that for many American Christians, trying to "figure out the schedule for the End Times has become a central task." (2005, 33). He goes on to quote former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who evidently does not disagree with a pastor who claims "the war between America and Iraq is the gateway to the Apocalypse." McKibben concludes: "The apocalyptics may not be wrong. One could make a perfectly serious argument that the policies of Tom DeLay are in fact hastening the End Times" (33).
(3) See McAuliffe (1999). Also, Angie Debo documents similar issues in her classic work And Still the Waters Run (1940).
(4) Askew refers to several black townships in the novel. See also Crockett (1979) and Wickett (2000).
(5) Gates continues in Loose Canons:
There is a long history of resistance to (white) theory in the (black) tradition. Unlike almost every other, the Afro-American literary tradition was generated as a response to allegations that its authors did not, and could not create literature, considered the signal measure of a race's innate "humanity." The African ... in the New World seems to have felt compelled to create a literature not only to demonstrate that blacks did indeed possess the intellectual ability to create a written art, but also to indict the several social and economic institutions that delimited the "humanity" of all black people in Western cultures.... Black literature and its criticism, then, have been put to uses that were not primarily aesthetic; rather, they have formed part of a larger discourse on the nature of the black, and of his or her role in the order of things. (Gates 1992, 75-76)
(6) Askew has commented in Sussler's interview (1997) that she herself knew nothing of the Tulsa race riots, due to a fifty-year conspiracy of silence (35). The effectiveness of such longstanding silence is confirmed to me each time the topic arises every semester when I teach a course in Ethnic Literature (attended by a large cross-section of majors who are required to take a General Education course in diversity). Routinely, maybe only two students out of a class of nearly forty, have ever heard of the event despite studying history in and graduating from Oklahoma secondary schools. I have therefore, made, reading about this event, both from historical and fictional accounts, a requirement in this class.
(7) I'm following Wayne Booth's familiar notions articulated in "Distance and Point of View" (1996) of the "implied dialogue among author, narrator, the other characters, and the reader" and the various ways "aesthetic distance" in a narrative should be considered when interpreting a work of fiction (124-25).
(8) Despite the magnanimous and credible explanation of John Callahan in his introduction to Juneteenth (Ellison 1999), I am more persuaded by James Wood's conclusion in "The Writer and the Preacher" (1999) that Ellison's second novel, as posthumously edited, is finally, essentially allegory. Callahan concludes (along with James Allan McPherson) that Ellison was "trying to solve the central problem of American literature. He was trying to find forms invested with enough familiarity to reinvent a much broader and much more diverse world for those who take their provisional identities from groups ... he was trying to Negro-Americanize the novel form, at the same time he was attempting to move beyond it" (Ellison 1999, xxi).
(9) In "Black Oklahomans and Sense of Place," Franklin (1994) discusses the state's reception of black history and makes specific connection to Ellison.
(10) In The Mercy Seat Askew (1997) also uses scenes of racial confrontation to underscore the dehumanization of blacks. In one troubling but important scene, a ten-year-old white protagonist violently confronts a black wet-nurse (83). Also, Askew's sense of validating the other is evident in Mercy Seat where the Native spiritualist Thula plays a very prominent role, similar to that of Iola Bloodgood Bullet Tiger in Fire in Beulah. See Hada (2004).
(11) For example, see Debo (1940, 338) concerning the Barnett case, as well as McAuliffe (1999).
(12) See Blaisdell (2001). His endnotes also provide a thorough bibliography concerning the extent of lynching history.
(13) See Blaisdell (2001, 302-03) among others.
(14) I am fortunate to have the results of a survey completed by the "Sisters Sippin' Tea" reading group in the Tulsa area (Haynes 2005). Their responses to Askew's novel are interesting to consider. Overall the readers were favorably impressed with Askew's motive, but some were hesitant to believe that a positive effect could be realized. One reader responded, "The perspectives in the book were removed from the Black experience--that is--certain feelings, emotions and cultural references can neither be understood, nor adequately communicated by persons not immersed in that culture ..." Another responded by saying that the book "could not clearly represent the feelings of Black America.... Unless you're Black it can't be done."
(15) Among others, see Scott Ellsworth (1982), in particular his discussion and photograph of Tulsa's many black World War I veterans.
(16) Fire in Beulah could be read in light of women's history (multi-cultural concerns vs. the pioneer woman motif, for example). To what extent did white females benefit from conquest and social hierarchy? In Fire in Beulah, white females obviously benefit from and contribute to racial unrest, but they also appear to be victims of male activity. Pascoe (1991) raises the question: "were frontiers-women more racist--or less racist--than frontiers-men?" (qtd. Limerick et al. 1991, 54).
Askew, Rilla. 1997. The Mercy Seat. New York: Penguin Books.
______. 2001. Fire in Beulah. New York: Penguin Books.
______. 2005. "Most American" email to the author, September 20.
Blaisdell, Lowell L. 2001. "Anatomy of an Oklahoma Lynching: Bryan County, August 12-13, 1911." The Chronicles of Oklahoma 79: 298-313.
Booth, Wayne. 1996. "Distance and Point of View." In Essentials of the Theory of Fiction, ed. Michael J. Hoffman and Patrick D. Murphy. 2nd edition. Durham: Duke University Press.
Crockett, N.L. 1979. The Black Towns. Lawrence: The Regents Press of Kansas.
Debo, Angie. 1940. And Still The Waters Run. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ellison, Ralph. 1986. Going to the Territory. New York: Random House.
______. 1999. Juneteenth. Ed. John F. Callahan. New York: Random House.
Ellsworth, Scott. 1982. Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Fitz, Karsten.2002. "Native and Christian: Religion and Spirituality as Transcultural Negotiation in American Indian Novels of the 1990s." American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 26: 1-15.
Franklin, Jimmie L.1994. "Black Oklahomans and Sense of Place." In An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before: Alternative Views of Oklahoma History, ed Davis D. Joyce. Norman: Oklahoma University Press.
Gambill, Brad. 2001. "Goin'Down Home: An Interview with Rilla Askew." Cimarron Review 134:101-20.
Gaines, Ernest. 1993. A Lesson Before Dying. New York: Knopf.
Gates, Eddie Faye. 1997. They Came Searching: How Blacks Sought the Promised Land in Tulsa. Austin: Eakin Press.
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. 1988. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press.
______. 1992. Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hada, Kenneth. 2004. "That Truth Beyond Particulars: Silence in Rilla Askew's The Mercy Seat." Southwestern American Literature 30: 37-53.
Haynes, Sharon. 2005. E-mail to the author, September 14.
Herman, Judith. 1992. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Ballentine.
Hirsch, James. 2002. Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hobson, Fred C. 1999. But Now I See: The White Southern Racial Conversion Narrative. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Hogan, Linda. 1990. Mean Spirit. New York: Ivy Books.
Johnson, Hannibal. 2002. Acres of Aspiration: The All-Black Towns in Oklahoma. Austin: Eakin Press.
Kermode, Frank. 1967. The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Limerick, Patricia Nelson, Clyde A. Milner II, and Charles E. Rankin eds. 1991. Trails: Toward a New Western History. Lawrence: Kansas University Press.
Madigan, Tim. 2001. The Burning: Massacre, Destruction and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. New York: St. Martin's Press.
McAuliffe, Dennis Jr. 1999. Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Creed and Murder on the Osage Reservation. Tulsa: Council Oak Books.
McKibben, Bill. 2005. "The Christian Paradox." Harper's Magazine, August, 31-37.
McCarthy, Cormac. 1985. Blood Meridian. New York: Vintage.
Morrison, Toni. 1993. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage Books.
Nossiter, Adam. 2001. "Something Tulsa Forgot." New York Times Book Review 151. 151943 (November): 11,33.
Piacentiono, Ed. 2004. "'The Common Humanity that is in us All': Toward Racial Reconciliation in Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying." Southern Quarterly 42: 73-85.
Sepich, John. 1983. Notes on Blood Meridian. Louisville: Bellarmine Press.
Sussler, Betsy. 1997. "Rilla Askew." Bomb 61: 34-37.
Thompson, Carlyle V. 2002. "From a Hog to a Black Man: Black Male Subjectivity and Ritualistic Lynching in Ernest J. Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying. CLA Journal 45:279-310
Wickett, M.R. 2000. Contested Territory: Whites, Native Americans, and African Americans in Oklahoma, 1865-1907. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Wood, James. 1999. "The Writer and the Preacher." The New Republic 220: 38-42.
Kenneth Hada is associate professor in the Department of English & Languages at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma.
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