CHILDREN & YOUTH
BLACK HISTORY MONTH HIGHLIGHTS
FEBRUARY 22, 2021
African American History in Oklahoma
African Americans first crossed into Indian Territory during the Trail of Tears, when thousands of Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands between 1830 and 1842. Many African Americans that made the journey were enslaved by Native Americans, but a group of 500 agreed to move to Indian Territory in exchange for their freedom. This group of 500, which started out as The Gullah, a west African enclave that lived side-by-side with refugee Seminoles in Florida, made the trip as free men. The African Americans that survived the trip either remained enslaved until treaties between the U.S. and American Indian tribes were ratified or lived among the tribes as Black Seminoles.
O.W. Gurley (1868 – 1935) established and became the architect of the Greenwood District OK. He was one of the wealthiest men in the Oklahoma Territory. He moved to the territory in 1906 purchasing 40acres of land. From there he first built a rooming house on a trail that he named Greenwood from a town in Mississippi. It became immediately popular with African Americans due to racial persecutions in surrounding areas. Among his other initial buildings was three two-story buildings, five residencies, Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church and 80 acres of land in Rogers County.
Edward aka Edwin P. McCabe (1850 - 1920) was a settler, politician, businessman, attorney and l and agent who became the first African American to hold political office in the Old American West. He also submitted the first petition to organize Oklahoma as a state in 1906. His petition was denied due to protest by white settlers and Native Americans in the territory.
Willie M. “Bill” Picket (1870 – 1932) was a cowboy from childhood. His fame came as a performer in the Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch Wild West Show south of Ponca City, OK from 1905 – 1931. He invented Bulldogging, a new type of Steer rustling and the first African American Cowboy movie star, appearing in two silent films; Crimson Skull (1921) and The Bulldogger (1922) both filmed in Oklahoma by African American production company. The Three Rivers Museum, in Three Rivers area of Eastern Oklahoma has some history about Bill Picket. His gravesite is at Monument Hill, Ponca City, OK
Bass Reeves (1838 - 1910) an African American Lawman spent 32 years on the job with 3000 arrests to his credit. He never captured the wrong person and was free of bribery and misconduct claims. His life and career is reported to be inspiration and basis of The Lone Ranger, True Grit and Django Unchained. After Oklahoma statehood, at 69 years old he Reeves joined the Muskogee, OK Police Department and served until his death 3 years later.
Senate Bill 1 - Just after Oklahoma was accepted as the 46th state of the United States, the state legislature’s first action was the passing of Senate Bill 1 which was a Jim Crow law making public travel segregated.
50 All-Black Towns - The All-Black towns of Oklahoma represent a unique chapter in American history. Nowhere else, neither in the Deep South nor in the Far West, did so many African American men and women come together to create, occupy, and govern their own communities. From 1865 to 1920 African Americans created more than fifty identifiable towns and settlements, some of short duration and some still existing at the beginning of the 21st century. Established in 1850, Tullahassee was the first all-Black town established and still exists today. Along with Tullahassee, 12 other all Black towns are still in existence: Boley, Brooksville, Clearview, Grayson, Langston, Lima, Red Bird, Rentiesville, Summit, Taft, Tatums, and Vernon.