-->By Gloria Dulan-WilsonHello All -
A recent posting on FaceBook has prompted me to provide you with a partial listing of some of the Black towns that existed in Oklahoma Territory before the Oklahoma "Ruin" of April 22, 1889 - which was the biggest land grab outside of the Bush mortgage debacle of 2008.
There are others, but this should suffice to show that Greenwood - so called "Black Wall Street" - was not the only town where Blacks were thriving and raising families, Black in the day. While historians may claim that Black towns only came into existence after th eCivil War, Black slaves were escaping into Oklahoma territory long before the Civil War, and had established homes, businesses, schools and churches long before the Oklahoma Ruin of 1889. The land grab spelled in many ways, Black autonomy in Oklahoma for many people who had enjoyed living without white oppression, racism, and violence.
African Towns and Settlements of Indian and Oklahoma Territories
AFRICAN GHOST TOWNS
North Fork Town
AFRICAN TOWNS TODAY
AFRICAN GHOST TOWNSARKANSAS COLORED TOWN----From 1895 onward, this small black settlement existed in the southern part of the Chickasaw Nation. A post office operated in this town from 1895 to 1912. Not much more has even been written about the town, nor the Freedmen who resided within its limits. No trace exists of the settlement today.
BOOKERTEE----Three miles northeast of Weleetka in Okfuskee County the settlement of Bookertee used to lie. The town was named after Booker T. Washington, and was at its peak around 1920. No remnants nor written history of this settlement exists.
CANADIAN COLORED---About 10 miles south and west of the town of Eufaula the black settlement known as Canadian Colored Town existed. Nearby was the Civil War point known as Canadian Depot, which was a supply point during the Civil War. Since there were already places with the name of ?Canadian? elsewhere in the region and since this particular settlement had a large black settlement it became known as the Canadian Colored Town and with time it was simply referred to as Canadian Colored.
CHASE---Established in 1903, this town was 8 miles southwest of Muskogee. In 1908, the name of the town was changed to Beland. Neither names exist today.
FERGUSON---In 1901 this settlement on the Canadian River North in Blaine County O.T. was established. It was 12 miles directly north of the town of Watonga Oklahoma. No longer in existence.
LINCOLN CITY---Established in 1889 during the Oklahoma Land Rush, this town was a legacy to the All Black town movement of Edwin P. McCabe. It was located outside of Indian Territory and further west in Oklahoma Territory in Kingfisher County. Nothing remains today.
MARSHALL TOWN---As far back as the 1870?s Marshall Town was known as a black settlement. The town was on a spot between the Arkansas River, and the Verdigris River. Between 1878 and 1885, many of the Creek Lighthorsemen were black, and there were constant clashes between Cherokee cattlemen, and the African Creek Lighthorse Police. Many of these clashes were fatal between the African Creeks and the Cherokee cattlemen. Some researchers indicated that a state that closely resembled a racial war continued for several years in the area around Marshall Town. In 1876 one of the African Lighthorsemen was killed, and in 1879 one of the Cherokee cattlemen, John Vann, was killed. It was believed that the death of the Cherokee was in revenge of the death of the African Lighthorseman. The conflicts continued for several years, and did not quiet down till the mid 1880?s.
NORTH FORK TOWN---Originally a Creek Settlement, by the 1850?s this town had a considerable number of Africans residing in the town. By 1862 the town in the early part of the Civil War, the town was raided by Confederates and many of the African citizens lost personal property and were forced to flee the town for some time. The Claims of the Loyal Creeks were made in 1867 whereby several hundred Black Creeks spoke of their lives and property in North Fork Town. (These claims can be read at the National Archives.) By the turn of the century it was an exclusively African town, with Sugar T. George serving as the most widely respected Town King in the Creek Nation.
OLD VINITA---This was a primarily black settlement in the Cherokee Nation, and was home to mostly Cherokee Freedmen. Many Freedmen eventually left and settled in Coffeyville Kansas, for job opportunities. This black settlement has been absorbed into the current city of Vinita Oklahoma.
WYBARK---Established in 1890, though settled a bit earlier, Wybark was 4 miles north of Muskogee. The town operated a post office from 1890 to 1940. It is believed to have absorbed some of the old settlement of North Fork though no remains of that town are noted. The town faded in the 1940?s.
|Map of Black Towns in Oklahoma Yesteryear and Today|
AFRICAN TOWNS TODAYARCADIA---Established in 1890, this town is the most recently incorporated of the historically black towns. It was incorporated in 1987--almost 1900 years after the post office was established in the town.
BOLEY---Located in the western part of Okfuskee County this historically black town was established in 1903. The town of Boley is also the site of the noted attempted bank robbery that was foiled when Black townsmen prevented the Pretty Boy Floyd gang from robbing the town's only bank. Now a much smaller town of about 750 residents, this was the at one time most vibrant black towns in all of Indian Territory. In addition each year the town hosts one of the most famous events of the state-----the Boley Black Rodeo. Horsemen from throughout the region participate in this annual event each year during Memorial Day weekend. Many of the structures are on the National Register of Historic Places. During the early 1900?s Boley was considered to be the largest black town in the United States. During the days when Boley was at its peak more than 4000 blacks lived in the town. Several restaurants, hotels and businesses were a part of this city's legacy.
LANGSTON---This city was named for the noted educator and abolitionist John Mercer Langston. It was founded in 1891, and is home to Langston University the farthest west of the Historically Black Colleges & Universities. The town was founded during the heart of the campaign to establish and all black state initiated by Edwin P. McCabe from Kansas.
RED BIRD--- In the Creek Nation, this town lies only a few miles from Coweta Oklahoma. it was officially established in 1902 though it existed as a settlement before that time. It was always a rural community and was home to many Creek Freedmen as well as State Blacks who relocated to the Twin Territories in the late 19th century. Red Bird served as a market center for many rural black farmers, providing a market exchange for the black farmers of the region. The population of the town peaked out at about 400 in the 1920?s.
RENTIESVILLE---Now only a bed-room community, this town hosts the often tri-annual reenactment of the famous Battle of Honey Springs. In the heart of the Creek Nation and only a few miles south of Muskogee this town lies on the banks of Elk Creek. The Civil War battle was won, interestingly by black soldiers many from the Creek Nation, who had served in two units------the 1st Kansas Colored and the Indian Home Guards. The well written about Texas Road runs right through the heart of Rentiesville.
TAFT---Originally known as Twine, I.T. this Creek Nation black town was established in 1903. Like neighboring Red Bird, it was a market for rural farmers mostly black. Many Creek Freedmen lived in or near Taft. The city council still exists today and is one of the few black towns remaining that has a town council still in operation. The town of Taft is now home to the Creek Freedmen Shrine and African American landmark built by Napoleon Davis a memorial to the history of the 5000 Africans who lived in the Creek Nation.
TULLAHASSEE---The history of this town pre-dates Oklahoma statehood by 57 years. Established as a mission for the Creeks in 1850, Tullahassee became the site of the famous Creek Academy--the Tullahassee Mission School. It later was abandoned by the Creek Indians who left it as a school for their former African slaves. The Tullahassee Mission school then became a boarding school for the next two decades for Creek and Seminole Freedmen, under the leadership of Fisk and Hampton trained teachers and under the financial leadership of Sugar T. George, African Town King and leader from North Fork.
VERNON---The town of Vernon was founded by Edwin P. McCabe the Kansas auditor who launched the all black town movement. It was established in 1895, and still exists today.
WEWOKA---Established by African Seminole leader John Horse, in the 1840?s this particular town is now mostly white, though a sizable black community still survives in this area. The town is the county seat of Seminole County. Founder John Horse left Indian Territory in 1848 taking several hundred Africans with him to northern Mexico, attempting to escape raids from the Creek Nation, and efforts to force them back into slavery. The town had notable African Seminoles among its residents at one time---Negro Abraham, Caesar Bruner, Dorsar Barkus, Cudjoe and others. ( The Seminole nation today now has two African bands both led by African American women tribal leaders.)
All Black Towns of OklahomaMay 2010 – September 2010 – NOW CLOSED
Oklahoma’s all-black towns epitomize the unique African-American history of the Sooner State. From the mid-nineteenth century to 1920, African-Americans established more than 50 identifiable towns and communities, some of short duration and some still existing at the turn of the 21st century. Many started as cohesive farming communities that supported businesses, schools and churches, eventually gaining town status. Entrepreneurs in these communities started every imaginable kind of business, including newspapers, and advertised throughout the South for settlers.
This traveling exhibit from the Oklahoma Historical Society is made possible through funding by the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
All-Black towns grew in Indian Territory after the Civil War when the former slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes settled together for mutual protection and economic security. When the United States government forced American Indians to accept individual land allotments, most Indian "freedmen" chose land next to other African Americans. They created cohesive, prosperous farming communities that could support businesses, schools, and churches, eventually forming towns. Entrepreneurs in these communities started every imaginable kind of business, including newspapers, and advertised throughout the South for settlers. Many African Americans migrated to Oklahoma, considering it a kind of "promise land."
When the Land Run of 1889 opened yet more "free" land to non-Indian settlement, African Americans from the Old South rushed to newly created Oklahoma. E. P. McCabe, a former state auditor of Kansas, helped found Langston and encouraged African Americans to settle in that All-Black town. To further his cause, McCabe established the Langston City Herald and circulated it, often by means of traveling agents, throughout the South. McCabe hoped that his tactics would create an African American political power block in Oklahoma Territory. Other African American leaders had a vision of an All-Black state. Although this dream was never realized, many All-Black communities sprouted and flourished in the rich topsoil of the new territory and, after 1907, the new state.
In these towns African Americans lived free from the prejudices and brutality found in other racially mixed communities of the Midwest and the South. African Americans in Oklahoma and Indian Territories would create their own communities for many reasons. Escape from discrimination and abuse would be a driving factor. All-Black settlements offered the advantage of being able to depend on neighbors for financial assistance and of having open markets for crops. Arthur Tolson, a pioneering historian of blacks in Oklahoma, asserts that many African Americans turned to "ideologies of economic advancement, self-help, and racial solidarity."
Marshalltown, North Fork Colored, Canadian Colored, and Arkansas Colored existed as early as the 1860s in Indian Territory. Other Indian Territory towns that no longer exist include Sanders, Mabelle, Wiley, Homer, Huttonville, Lee, and Rentie. Among the Oklahoma Territory towns no longer in existence are Lincoln, Cimarron City, Bailey, Zion, Emanuel, Udora, and Douglas. Towns that still survive are Boley, Brooksville, Clearview, Grayson, Langston, Lima, Red Bird, Rentiesville, Summit, Taft, Tatums, Tullahassee, and Vernon. The largest and most renowned of these was Boley. Booker T. Washington, nationally prominent African American educator, visited Boley twice and even submitted a positive article on the town to Outlook Magazine in 1908.
The passage of many Jim Crow laws by the Oklahoma Legislature immediately after statehood caused some African Americans to become disillusioned with the infant state. During this time Canada promoted settlement and, although the campaign focused on whites, a large contingent of African Americans relocated to that nation's western plains, forming colonies at Amber Valley, Alberta, and Maidstone, Saskatchewan. Another exodus from Oklahoma occurred with the "Back to Africa" movements of the early twentieth century. A large group of Oklahomans joined the ill-fated Chief Sam expedition to Africa. A number of other African Americans migrated to colonies in Mexico.
White distrust also limited the growth of these All-Black towns. As early as 1911 whites in Okfuskee County attempted to block further immigration and to force African Americans into mixed but racially segregated communities incapable of self-support. Several of these white farmers signed oaths pledging to "never rent, lease, or sell land in Okfuskee County to any person of Negro blood, or agent of theirs; unless the land be located more than one mile from a white or Indian resident." To further stem the black migration to eastern Oklahoma a similar oath was developed to prevent the hiring of "Negro labor."
Events of the 1920s and 1930s spelled the end for most black communities. The All-Black towns in Oklahoma were, for the most part, small agricultural centers that gave nearby African American farmers a market. Prosperity generally depended on cotton and other crops. The Great Depression devastated these towns, forcing residents to go west and north in search of jobs. These flights from Oklahoma caused a huge population decrease in black towns.
As people left, the tax base withered, putting the towns in financial jeopardy. In the 1930s many railroads failed, isolating small towns in Oklahoma from regional and national markets. As a result, many of the black towns could not survive. During lean years whites would not extend credit to African Americans, creating an almost impossible situation for black farmers and businessmen to overcome. Even one of the most successful towns, Boley, declared bankruptcy in 1939. Today, only thirteen All-Black towns still survive, but their legacy of economic and political freedom is well remembered.
SEE ALSO: AFRICAN AMERICANS, BOLEY, BROOKSVILLE, CLEARVIEW, FREEDMEN, LANGSTON, LINCOLN CITY, EDWARD McCABE, RED BIRD, RENTIESVILLE, SEGREGATION, SETTLEMENT PATTERNS, SUMMIT, TAFT, TATUMS, TULLAHASSEE, VERNON
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Black Dispatch (Oklahoma City), 8 March 1923. Norman Crockett, The Black Towns (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1979). Norman Crockett, "Witness to History: Booker T. Washington Visits Boley," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 67 (Winter 1989-90). Kenneth Lewallan, "Chief Alfred Sam: Black Nationalism on the Great Plains, 1913-14," Journal of the West 16 (January 1977). Bruce Shepard, "North to the Promised Land: Black Migration to the Canadian Plains," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 66 (Fall 1988).
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