I remember when I was doing my externship at the U.S. State Department in 2003 in Washington D.C., I had a to work hard just to convince my friends that there were actually Black people in Oklahoma! However, Oklahoma not only has a rich history involving Black People. I argue that Oklahoma’s Black History is the most interesting and unique, and I can prove it:
First, at the end of the Civil War, the newly emancipated African “Americans” suffered from the brunt of so much hostility one scholar writes “Black folk were always on the move, throwing off oppression like stifling clothes and inhabiting new lands with old hopes of freedom,” The search took African-Americans to Kansas, Canada, Mexico, and even back home to Africa. But the place that got the most attention to relocate for freedom-thirsty African-Americans-Americans viewed Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory, as the most sensible place for African-Americans to start their new lives. Why Oklahoma you may ask?
a) Indian Territory was not subject to the racist laws of America since it was technically a “foreign” land;
b) Upward to forty (40%) percent of the so-called 5 Civilized Tribes would be labeled African-American today.
The Honorable Edward P. McCabe, widely considered the father of America’s all-Black town movement, even traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Benjamin Harrison to lobby for Oklahoma to be admitted as a Black State. In addition, those ambitious African-Americans calling for a Black State even inspired New Hampshire Senator Henry W. Blair to introduce a bill favoring Oklahoma’s admission to the Union as such.
Second, while obviously Oklahoma did not become Black State, but Oklahoma did become and still is home to the greatest number all-Black towns in this nation’s history. This comes as no surprise when one examines the thinking of the African-Americans who came to Oklahoma like William H. Twine, writing in 1905:
Some of us have made our last move and we propose to stand our ground where we have our homes and our investments until hell freezes over and then fight the devils on ice… [T]he Indian Territory is the last stand the Negro of America can make as pioneer and we propose to let it go down that the stand was made here.
The success of the record number of all-Black towns that formed all over Oklahoma and their continuing existence is a testament to the freedom-chasing spirit of those African-Americans-Americans like Twine. This freedom loving spirit and willingness to fight to achieve freedom not only produced a record number Black Towns, but also scores of Black pioneers from Oklahoma that totally shaped American and World history such as: Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, who in 1948 successfully sued the University of Oklahoma to admit her into its law school; Ralph Ellison, who profoundly detailed the agony of being a Black man in America in his novel, Invisible Man, causing one commentator to write “[N]o… American writer has received as much critical acclaim and as many honors for such a small body of work;” Chief Cow Tom (my direct ancestor), an African-Creek who negotiated the Creek Treaty of 1866 which ended all slavery in the Creek Nation; Jake Simmons, Jr. (Cow Tom’s great-grandson and my great uncle)), the most important Black businessman in the history of the oil industry; and Roscoe Dunjee and Clara Luper, in 1958, contrary to popular belief, conducted the nation’s first sit-in [boycott] in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Bessie Coleman (Brave Bessie or Queen Bess), the world’s first licensed Black pilot just name a few.
Third, Black Oklahoma gave the world two of the greatest institutions/inspirations ever produced by African-Americans: Greenwood and Booker T. Washington High School both of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Greenwood’s wealth, organization, and excellence was so remarkable that the great Dr. W.E.B. Dubois described the community also known as Black Wall Street saying “I have never seen a colored community so highly organized as that of Tulsa. The colored people of Tulsa have accumulated property, have established stores and business organizations and have made money in oil.” Before Greenwood’s near total destruction during the so-called 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Greenwood’s population had a population of almost 11,000 two and three-story brick buildings lining the street, housing a variety of commercial establishments and educational institutions including two black schools, a Hospital, two movie theaters, offices of Tulsa’s unusually large number of lack lawyers, doctors, and other professionals. Greenwood was so economically self-sufficient, purportedly a dollar circulated within the community fifty times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community
Driving Greenwood to greatness was Tulsa Booker T. Washington High School (“BTW”), the first High School (not just Black school) below the Mason and Dixon line to obtain the prestigious and essential Accreditation Certificate from North Central Association of Colleges and High Schools in 1926. Without a doubt, with its deep tradition of academic excellence, social consciousness, and athletic prowess, BTW is considered by many as one the top ten (10) high schools in the history of this country. Indeed even a cursory look at a BTW alumni list will reveal a who’s,who of African-American’s such as “American’s Historian” the late great Dr. John Hope Franklin, Historian and Psychologist Dr. Julian Hare, Musical Icon The Gap Band, Olympic Gold Medalists Kenny Monday and Wayman Tisdale (arguably the greatest college basketball player of all-time), and Legendary BTW Principal E.W. Woods just to name a few.
So yes my Big city friends , my Oklahoma as “lily white” and “Red” as it is…the fact is Oklahoma is the Blackest State of All-Time!!
Black History is American History!
Black History is World History!
Black History is Our History
Damario Solomon-Simmons, Esq., M.Ed., is a direct descent of Creek Nation Chief Cow Tom and his family has been in Oklahoma since 1836. Damario is Of Counsel at Oklahoma’s premier law firm RiggsAbney and adjunct professor of African & African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @solospeakstruth.