Books That Inspire 2005

Fire in Beulah
Rilla Askew

As an educational historian, I am interested in written books and materials that depict our cultural heritage from personal or social perspectives. I agree with educational philosopher Harry Broudy that many of society’s political and educational reforms have resulted from historical ignorance about our shared past. This seems to be the case for much of the African-American experience in Oklahoma, and Rilla Askew’s poignant combination of historical fiction and fact helps remedy this situation.

Recently, in my class that focuses on written and oral historical narratives, we were discussing the difficulty in finding records of black schools and communities that existed in early twentieth-century Oklahoma. Fire in Beulah helps to remedy this. A master of her craft, Rilla Askew weaves a story of two fated Oklahoma families (one Black, one White) into the factual account of the tragic Tulsa race riots of 1921. We have no record that these family portraits are “real,” but they are so skillfully crafted that the reader is quickly drawn into a drama that is psychologically and culturally genuine, and that helps us to collectively understand a heartrending part of our American heritage.
Joan Smith
College of Education