Violent Utopia, forthcoming from Duke University press in 2022, is based on archival work and ethnographic fieldwork I began in 2014 in Tulsa, OK. Violent Utopia extends on my ongoing investment in the question of what repair and reparation might be. It examines the condition of Black life in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as oriented around the settlement of Indian Territory, the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, and the massacre’s centenary. The book is concerned with how the freedom achieved in historical Greenwood, colloquially known as Black Wall Street, became curtailed by dispossessive violence. Violent Utopia assesses how the equally weighted violent processes that included the 1921 race massacre, urban renewal, and everyday impoverishment resulted in the ultimate dispossession of Greenwood, which today is glossed as North Tulsa. In the wake of this dispossession, blackness in North Tulsa is organized and driven by community formation understood as ethics and acts of restoration. Violent Utopia illustrates how the North Tulsa community reconciles the inheritance of violence and freedom that form the very condition of their geography. As such, Violent Utopia argues that the geography of North Tulsa, as a site of sovereign belonging, is the basis on which Black Tulsans will repair the promise of Greenwood.
Praise for Violent Utopia
“In Violent Utopia, Jovan Scott Lewis cautions that Tulsa’s historic Greenwood community is more than its Black Wall Street legacy. Situating the 1921 Tulsa race massacre within knotty and enduring place-specific geographies of anti-Black and anti-Native American violence, he masterfully outlines the complex structures of dispossession and trauma in which Tulsa’s Black population has been entangled from Indian Removal to Jim Crow to urban renewal to gentrification. With an ultimate interrogation of the possibilities for Greenwood’s twenty-first-century freedom and repair, this book stands out for its original and timely insights that only can be revealed through the mix of tools that Lewis leverages from geography, anthropology, and history.”
— Karla Slocum, author of Black Towns, Black Futures: The Enduring Allure of a Black Place in the American West
“Jovan Scott Lewis makes an important, radical, and critical turn away from histories that exceptionalize the white violence of the Tulsa massacre and cast it as a singular event as opposed to a structural occurrence. Deftly and sensitively moving beyond narratives based on an easy nostalgia, cheap sentimentalism, and knee jerk patriotism, he painstakingly demonstrates that 1921 must be seen as a century-long project of deprivation and dispossession. With this important book, Lewis has given us a harrowing narrative of Black disenfranchisement.”
— Peter James Hudson, author of Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean