With African Americans making up approximately 10 percent of the so-called “Indian Territory”, at least 27 all-black towns, more than any other state, were created in Oklahoma. After the Civil War many of these individuals came to the state as formerly enslaved persons or as in the case of Rev. Willie Haney, members of Native American families.
Edwin P. McCabe, a black lawyer and politician, directly or indirectly promoted the creation of every African American settlement in the state. McCabe had hoped to establish the state as an all black refuge from the brutality experienced in the South, however, the evil thought to be left behind had re-surfaced in the new territory.
White citizens went to Washington to lobby against “black statehood.” One member of the group commenting, “We will not tolerate Negro government here. If McCabe is appointed governor, I would not give five cents for his life.” The proliferation and success of black towns throughout the state infuriated white opposition and where legal schemes and politics failed, more drastic means of intimidation were enlisted.
The largest of the black Oklahoma towns was Boley, founded in 1903 in the Creek Nation of “Indian Territory.” Located on the Ft. Smith & Western Railroad, the town became very successful and was officially incorporated on May 11, 1905. The population soon grew to 4000 residents and the town was often visited by Booker T. Washington, who championed it as the “largest and wealthiest Negro town in the world.” The annual Boley Rodeo, which began in 1905 and continues to be held each summer, was advertised throughout the South.
The purpose of this event was to attract African Americans to area with hope that they would purchase land and join the community, which in many cases did occur. The intolerance of whites however, toward the growing progress of black citizens, was reflected in a black Boley newspaper, “Not only do they want the Negro not to vote but want him to get off the earth as well.”
A one hour drive from Oklahoma City, Boley has its own school district and a current population of about 300 people. The major employer of the town is Smokaroma, a manufacturer of custom barbeque pits.
and the Negroes own it too,
With not a single white man here
To tell us what to do-in Boley”
by town poet Uncle Jesse
Exemplifying the hopes and dreams of typical town builders of the 1890’s, Douglas City was settled and managed by African American entrepreneurs and developed with their capital. The town consisted of 160 acres, ten of which were reserved for a public school. It was reported that more than 200 lots had been sold to African American families and that by 1893, the town had grown to include a general store, cotton gin, gristmill, a number of fine homes and a church. The school would be constructed some time later.
Pinning their optimism on two primary assurances, town promoters believed that the community would ultimately thrive. The fact that the town was laid out on the survey line of the proposed Midlands Railroad, and that local businesses had “sweetened” the deal by offering to donate twenty acres on which to locate the state sponsored Territorial Normal School for Negroes, seemed a recipe for success. However, the route of the railroad was diverted and the school was established in nearby Langston.
The Douglas community, which had postal service from 1894 until 1900, continues to exist in name only. The former townsite is now marked by a crossing at the intersection of the Turner Turnpike.
Named for Booker T. Washington, this settlement which reached its high point in about 1920, was located in Okfuskee County approximately three miles northeast of Weleetka.
Earlsboro: Formerly Loftis
Located in Pattawatomie County approximately seven miles east of Tecumseh. The townsite was established in June 1895 and named for James Earl, a popular African American barber of the area.
Grayson: Formerly Wild Cat
The town, which had a post office from February 1902 until April 1929, is believed to have been named for an African-Creek tribal leader. The following are excerpts as reported by “Uncle Felix,” a resident of Grayson who died in 1993 at the age of 100 years old.
Uncle Felix remembered some of the outlaws who rode the territory including Frank and Jessie James. He told a story of how the gang visited a black family and demanded dinner at gunpoint then later left a hundred dollar under each plate.
Uncle Felix remembered how Pretty Boy Floyd and Cherokee Bill terrorized the plains, with black lawmen in “hot pursuit.” His only regret was that after Oklahoma became a state, the first senate resolution enacted Jim Crow laws in 1907.
Founded by E.P. McCabe and incorporated in September 1891, Langston was located forty miles northwest of Oklahoma City on the direct route of the Santa Fe Railroad. With the opening of the Shawnee, Pottawatomie and other Indian lands by the federal government, Langston became a strategic point from which to launch the “land rush.”
However, despite the claim by the Langston City Herald that freedom could be had in Oklahoma for as little as “a Winchester, a frying pan and $15.00,” black settlers found themselves confronted with significant opposition. Challenges from whites who desired to control the territorial lands was to be anticipated, but the “free” African-Creek Indians, who called the southern blacks “Watchina” or “State Negroes”, displayed tremendous animosity for those they considered “Uncle Toms” to be lackeys of white plantation owners. These philosophical differences became immaterial when the federal government placed both groups in segregated schools away from whites.
Settled by Rev. Willie Haney, an African-Seminole Indian. The townsite existed from February 1908 until November 1916.
Clearview [Formerly Lincoln]
The townsite was first plotted in June 1903 and located midway between Arkansas and Oklahoma Territory. Under the auspices of the Lincoln Townsite Company, the settlement was founded by Lemuel Jackson, of African and Creek ancestry, James Roper formerly of Tennessee and John Grayson who was born in the vicinity of the townsite.
A settlement created when the entire black community of Rusk Texas, located just southwest of Dallas, pulled up stakes and relocated to Oklahoma just outside the township of Boley.
A short lived settlement promoted by McCabe and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Although the Santa Fe Railroad initiated construction of a depot and several small speculative homes were built, the violent reactions of white residents of nearby Perry, made this project too dangerous for black settlers.
Originally established in 1903, it continued to operate with postal service until approximately 1926, although the name of the town had been identified as Beland some time earlier.
One of the few all-black towns that continues today is Tullahassee. The only remnant of this once prosperous African American community, is the A. J. Mason General Store built in the early 1900’s. The Mason brothers ran the store and also owned extensive farm land and a cotton gin. When the last brother died, he willed the store to Marcellius Williams, their nephew. Before his death in 1950, Williams told of people coming from as far as 20 miles away to shop at the store. While their cotton was being ginned, farmers would purchase needed supplies and then spend time on the porch playing checkers and catching up on local news. Today, the Mason General Store is preserved as a historical landmark.