Today's Reading

Though Ross's family was one of many that struggled to make ends meet, other Black residents of Greenwood owned skating rinks, drugstores with soda fountains, a social club, Jarrett's grocery store, Carver's and Farley's cleaners, Madison's and Isaac's shoe stores, Jackson and Jack's mortuaries, the Royal Hotel, and four movie theaters: The Peoria, Regal, Rex, and Dreamland.

Some of the world's finest blues and jazz musicians performed in the neighborhood's clubs. The nightlife at Greenwood and Archer was celebrated in song. And there were Spann's and Big Ten's pool halls, which is where Ross learned to love the game and often hung out.

So why would this teacher tell such a ridiculous lie?

Before he could catch himself, Ross leaped from his seat.

"Mr. Williams, I don't believe that," Ross said. "I don't think you could burn this town down and have nobody know nothing about it. My people have been here since 1924 and they never said a word about no riot."

"Sit down and shut up," Mr. W.D. responded.

Ross immediately did as he was told, regretting his act the minute his behind touched the seat.

Mr. Williams glared at him but didn't say a word when the teenager left the classroom that afternoon.

But the next day, after another yearbook meeting, as students started to file out, Mr. W.D. spoke to him.

"Fat Mouth," the teacher said. "You stay here."

Ross's heart started pounding, thinking that he was about to be reprimanded or punished. Instead, Mr. Williams pulled a thick scrapbook from the top drawer of his desk and handed it to him.

Ross sat down at a nearby desk.

From the moment he opened the book, his head began to spin.

The first picture showed White men standing over a charred body lying facedown in the dirt.

The next photograph was just like it.

Then came a picture of Black corpses stacked on trucks.

Then another of Black men being marched down familiar streets with their hands in the air, guarded by armed White men wearing street clothes.

Next, one of flames shooting out of little homes and from big brick businesses along Greenwood Avenue.

And still another of a huge wall of black smoke.

Ross saw dozens of images, each worse than the last. His stomach began to turn somersaults.

"What do you say now, Fat Mouth?" the teacher asked. For maybe the first time in his life, Ross was speechless.

That night, after supper, Mr. W.D. picked Ross up in his car and drove him to the Greenwood home of another Black man, Seymour Williams, a longtime history teacher and the Washington High football coach.

"So, this is the boy who doesn't believe in the riot," Seymour Williams said, smirking.

"Says it never happened," Mr. W.D. replied. "Says nothing like that could have happened because he'd never heard about it. Ain't that right, Fat Mouth? You hear about everything around here."

Ross shrugged.

"Well, sit down next to me on this porch swing," Seymour Williams said. "And we'll tell you about something that never happened."

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