Episode 55 with Scott Ellsworth, Writer of Moving, Impeccably-Researched Historical Novels like The Secret Game, Death in a Promised Land, and May 18th’s The Ground Breaking


Show Notes and Links to Scott Ellsworth’s Work and Allusions/Texts from Episode 55


On Episode 55, Pete talks with Scott Ellsworth about the writing life, his interests and inspirations, and the incredible events and personalities that surround the famous “Secret Game” between the players of North Carolina College for Negroes and the white players of Duke University’s Medical School. Scott’s book on the subject is The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph.

The two also discuss the research and events surrounding the Tulsa Race Massacre and Scott’s highly-acclaimed book, set to come out on May 18, The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice.

Scott Ellsworth is the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Game, winner of the 2016 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. He has written about American history for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. Formerly a historian at the Smithsonian Institution, he is also the author of The World Beneath Their Feet and Death in a Promised Land, his groundbreaking account of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Scott lives in Ann Arbor, where he teaches in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan.

"Scott Ellsworth's absolutely riveting book does more than chronicle the Tulsa Race massacre of 1921 and its literal exhumation. With a stunning combination of objectivity and empathy, it demonstrates how even in polarized times we can come together in pursuit of truth. Though concerned with past events, it explores every stratum of the American city now—from City Hall, to dive bars, to homeless encampments, to the living rooms of the wealthy and the poor, regardless of color or creed. Anyone interested in America's future should read it as a template for the reconciliation that lies ahead." —Tim Blake Nelson, actor, Watchmen and Just Mercy, and Tulsa native on The Ground Breaking: an American City and its Search for Justice


Buy The Ground Breaking: an American City and its Search for Justice (Out May 18)


Buy The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph


Book Review for The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph


“JIM CROW LOSES; The Secret Game” Published in New York Times Magazine - March 31, 1996-by Scott Ellsworth


“On MLK Day, recalling The Secret Game"-by Mark Adams, January 17. 2011, on Espn.com

At about 3:10, Scott talks about the lead up to the upcoming release of The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice on May 18 of this year


At about 4:30, Scott talks about his early days of writing and reading


At about 8:00, Scott talks about the texts and writers that have been given him “chills at will,” including A River Runs Through It, Their Eyes Were Watching God, among others, in line with his belief all literature is 


At about 10:45, Scott relates an amusing anecdote about the great writer Zora Neale Hurston that is recounted in his book Secret Game, and Pete and Scott discuss Hurston’s interesting life and important work (including "How it Feels to be Colored Me") 


At about 13:00, discussion about Aubrey from The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph leads to an overview of the historical events leading up to and including those of the book


At about 16:25, Scott talks about some of the important characters from the book, including Jack Burgess and his rude awakening to the ugly world of Jim Crow, and Dave Hubbell


At about 20:00, Scott talks about his thought process in using some of the obsolete and often-fraught racial terminology of the book’s time period


At about 21:55, Scott talks about Henry “Big Dog” Thomas, a memorable member of the North Carolina College for Negroes, and the moving late scene in the book where Big Dog asserts his pride and his independence


At about 24:00. Scott talks about how his research for the book and outside of the book, reminds him that there were so many “baby steps” in the civil rights movement, and how he hopes that he has honored them and shined a light on them


At about 25:00, Scott talks about some of the events that involved people from the book, like Aubrey Stanly and Pee Wee-events many years after “The Secret Game”


At about 27:25, Pete and Scott discuss the outsized impact of the legendary coach of  North Carolina College for Negroes, John McLendon


At about 28:45, Scott discusses how he framed the narratives of Phog Allen and James Naismith and the research that connected them to John McLendon and “The Secret Game”; this also leads Scott to discuss the genesis of the book itself


At about 34:40, Scott ticks off the impressive list of firsts achieved by Coach John McLendon


At about 36:00, Pete and Scott talk about Scott’s incredible ability to connect seemingly disparate historical events in his writing


At about 36:35, Scott talks about the details of the famous “Secret Game” that the book chronicles


At about 40:30, Scott talks about the research done for the book, and how he was able to provide such a detail, including tracing a journey from the book by taking the bus himself


At about 42:30, Pete and Scott talk about the ways in which Jackie Robinson and other early “racial trailblazers”/HBCU athletes were often asked to “rise above” vitriolic and dehumanizing racism


At about 44:50, Scott talks about some of the aftereffects of the game and how he juxtaposed this effect with the racist killing of Booker T. Spicely


At about 47:50, Scott talks about the legacy of The Secret Game and its participants 


At about 49:00, Scott talks about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and his 1982 book, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, including his connection to the great historian, John Hope Franklin


At about 52:00, Scott talks about the silences, both forced and not, that have led to an incomplete accounting of the death and destruction from the Tulsa Race Massacre; he also talks about how he is involved in efforts to do exhumations and studies into the deaths and circumstance from 1921 Tulsa


At about 53:30, Scott and Pete talk about the renewed interest in the massacre due to The Watchmen, Lovecraft Country, and the 100th anniversary, with Scott explaining why he has written a “sequel” of sorts to his 1982 book with 2021’s The Ground Breaking; a lot of the interest comes from Scott’s work on a commission to search for the mass graves of massacre victims


At about 57:20, Scott talks about reparations with regard to the massacre


At about 59:25, Scott reads a bit of Chapter One and the last part of The Afterword from The Secret Game...


At about 1:05:00, Scott talks about future projects and shouts out bookstores where you can buy his book-Fulton Street Books in Tulsa, Magic City Books in Tulsa

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