5 THINGS TO KNOW: What is the story behind All-Black towns in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma Historical Society

The Oklahoma Historical Society details All-Black towns in Oklahoma. 

1. What were All-Black towns? 

All-Black towns were towns where African Americans lived freely from racism and other prejudices found in communities across the Midwest and the South. Arthur Tolson, a pioneering historian of Blacks in Oklahoma, asserts that many African Americans turned to "ideologies of economic advancement, self-help, and racial solidarity" within the communities. 

2. Why was now present day Oklahoma picked for All-Black towns? 

All-Black towns grew in Indian Territory after the Civil War when the former slaves of the Five Tribes settled together for mutual protection and economic security. 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."

3. Where were the towns located? 

Marshalltown, North Fork Colored, Canadian Colored, and Arkansas Colored existed as early as the 1860s in Indian Territory. Other Indian Territory towns that no longer exist include Sanders, Mabelle, Wiley, Homer, Huttonville, Lee, and Rentie. Among the Oklahoma Territory towns no longer in existence are Lincoln, Cimarron City, Bailey, Zion, Emanuel, Udora, and Douglas. The largest and most renowned of these was Boley.

4. Why did some towns die? 

The passage of many Jim Crow laws by the Oklahoma Legislature immediately after statehood caused some African Americans to become disillusioned with the young state. A large group of Oklahomans joined the ill-fated Chief Sam expedition to Africa. A number of other African Americans migrated to colonies in Mexico. 

As people left, the tax base withered, putting the towns in financial jeopardy.  During lean years whites would not extend credit to African Americans. Boley declared bankruptcy in 1939. Today, only thirteen historical All-Black towns still survive.

5. What towns still exist today?

Today, only thirteen historical All-Black towns still survive, but their legacy of economic and political freedom is well remembered. Towns still surviving today are Boley, Brooksville, Clearview, Grayson, Langston, Lima, Red Bird, Rentiesville, Summit, Taft, Tatums, Tullahassee, and Vernon. A fourteenth town, IXL, is new, and was incorporated in 2001. 

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