“Bright Red” Oklahoma’s Black Roots

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  it was Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory,  that got the most traction  from freedom-thirsty African-Americans for several reasons but most notably:

  • Indian Territory was not subject to the racist laws of America since it was technically a “foreign” land;
  • Upward to forty (40%) percent of the so-called 5 Civilized Tribes would be labeled African-American today.

In fact, 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.  

Obviously Oklahoma did not become a Black State, but Oklahoma  became  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 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 thaty 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, 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), the most important Black businessman in the history of the oil industry;
  • 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.

Black History is American History

Black History is World History

Black History is Our History

Damario Solomon-Simmons, Esq.M.Ed., is an NCAA D-1 football letter winner at the University of Oklahoma.    He is the managing partner of SolomonSimmonSharrock law firm and  Legislative Liaison for Oklahoma Policy Institute.  He can be contacted at @solospeakstruth.