The Cameron University Library will host "All Black Towns of Oklahoma," a special panel exhibit from the Oklahoma History Center, from January 12 - February 25. With 15 large, full-color graphic panels, the traveling exhibit celebrates the history of the Oklahoma All-Black towns that still exist.
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.
Many African-Americans migrated to Oklahoma, considering it a kind of "promise land." 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.
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. 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. Today, only 13 of the originally all-black towns still survive, but their legacy of economic and political freedom is well remembered.
This exhibit is made possible through funding by the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
December 26, 2008