Without a doubt, it hurt watching the OKC Thunder get crushed in game 5 of the NBA finals while at the Marriot downtown New Orleans. However, as usual, I enjoyed answering questions about Oklahoma to the curious Cajuns. As we talked, I quickly braced myself waiting for signal to belt out with enthusiasm: “Yes, Black people live in Oklahoma!”
Because before now, it was almost impossible to convince my “big city” colleagues that there were actually Black people in Oklahoma. In fact, in 2006 Charles Barkley commented Oklahoma is nothing but vast wasteland. No place for black people. Of course, this was before Kevin Durant and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder were making their impressive NBA finals run which has brought attention to Oklahoma, including its Black residents. However, even before the Thunder, Blacks in Oklahoma were making news, history, and even basketball shots, and hopefully this history can be acknowledged and promoted.
For example, most people have no idea that Oklahoma has the most unique Black history in America. For example, at the end of the Civil War, the newly emancipated African Americans suffered the brunt of so much hostility that Dr. Michael Eric Dyson writes: Black folk were always on the move, throwing off oppression like stifling clothes and inhabiting new lands with old hopes of freedom.
Thousands of African-Americans relocated to Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory. The Honorable Edward P. McCabe, widely considered the father of Americas 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. McCabe even persuaded New Hampshire Senator Henry W. Blair to introduce a bill favoring Oklahomas admission to the Union as an officially African-American state.
Now, while Oklahoma did not become a Black State, Oklahoma did become and still is home to most all-Black towns in the country. This freedom-loving spirit not only produced a record number of Black Towns, but also scores of Black pioneers and institutions from Oklahoma that totally shaped American and World history.
So, in closing, yes, yes my Big City peeps Oklahoma, even as “Red” as it is now was and is “Blackest” state in the Union. Thank you, Kevin Durant, for putting us Blacks in Oklahoma back on the map, and hopefully Oklahoma’s rich Black history will finally get the respect it merits!
Damario Solomon-Simmons, M.E.d., J.D., is the managing partner of SolomonSimmonSharrock & Associates law firm and an adjunct professor of African & African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He regularly writes and lectures on issues of race, sports, and social justice. His life’s mission is to inform, inspire, and empower and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/solospeaks.