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5 little-known facts about Oklahoma's black history

The Oklahoman Archives
The Oklahoman Archives

Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final part of a multi-part series highlighting Oklahoma’s black history that will be published throughout February in honor of Black History Month. Read the first, second and third parts: 5 things about Oklahoma's civil rights movement you should know and 6 notable black Oklahomans you should know about and 5 reasons the Tulsa Race Riot should always be remembered

To call these five topics “little-known facts” is hard for me to do without wanting to facepalm myself into oblivion.

My feelings are, if someone doesn’t know about the Tulsa Race Riot, then chances are they don’t know about Guthrie’s rich black history, or the 50-plus all-black communities that sprang up after the Land Run, or even the roots of the Deep Deuce area in Oklahoma City. The truth is these shouldn’t be little-known facts, yet I fear they are.

So, here are 5 little-known facts about Oklahoma’s black history you should know about.

#5 – All-black towns

Oklahoma’s black history takes root in the large number of towns — more than 50 — that were established by blacks in the early 1900s. Most of these began as farming communities, but then people began starting businesses — from shops to clinics to newspapers — and the towns grew exponentially as the years went on.

Though not many of these towns exist today, they were a major part of Oklahoma during its most formative years.

#4 – The Black Theater of Ardmore
Google Street View
Google Street View

Ardmore is the home to one of the first all-black theaters, built during the time of segregation so blacks in the community who were barred from patronizing whites-only theaters could enjoy entertainment.

The city had a pretty healthy black community at the time, as more than 2,000 blacks created their own business district out of necessity.

The building still stands today but hasn’t been a theater since 1944. It is currently a church, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

#3 – Deep Deuce
The Oklahoman Archives
The Oklahoman Archives

Black culture made Deep Deuce what it was during the mid 1900s. Just a few blocks away from Bricktown, Deep Deuce was the place to be if you needed your jazz music fix.

Sadly, only one business in the area was still black-owned as of March 2014. Much of the residents moved out of the area during the Civil Rights movement, then the creation of the Interstate 235 interchange caused buildings to be cleared away. Now what you’ll find are apartment buildings and other developments that leave little remnants of the original Deep Deuce.

#2 – Rebellions

Black Oklahomans found themselves involved in a couple of infamous rebellions and skirmishes in the early 1900s: the Smoked Meat Rebellion, and the Green Corn Rebellion.

In 1909 a group of Creek freedman — blacks who were descendants of slaves owned by the Creek people — attempted to fend off authorities when they (and/or the Creeks) were accused of stealing meat from a white farmer. The local sheriff formed a posse and, in the end, two deputies and one black freedman were dead, and another 42 blacks were arrested. This event is known as the Smoked Meat Rebellion, or the Crazy Snake Rebellion.

The Green Corn Rebellion began thanks to two things: the 1917 Selective Draft Act and the poor farmers in southeast Oklahoma who sided with the Socialist Party in hopes it would improve their lives. Many of the younger farmers were black, and feared they were most susceptible to the draft. So they — along with European-Americans and Native Americans — formed a group that caused general mayhem around communities in southeast Oklahoma. They then grew to nearly 1,000 strong and had plans to march to Washington D.C., living off the land as they did so, saying they’d eat the “green corn” along the way.

The rebellion really didn’t go anywhere because someone within the group snitched to the authorities and the rebels were intercepted before they even got out of Pontotoc County.

#1 – ‘Little Africa’ of Guthrie
Oklahoma Territorial Museum
Oklahoma Territorial Museum

Guthrie is a pretty important place in Oklahoma. Not only was it the state’s original capital, but the city’s west side was predominantly black and was known by two names: Little Africa and The Elbow.

You name it, Little Africa had it: saloons, barber shops, restaurants, and so on. But it also had influences from other cultures, especially when it came to food: on the corner of Second Street and Harrison, a man called “Hot Tamele” Mason sold tamales. Then, not far from there, was Waley Ong’s Chinese Cafe.

One of the biggest pieces of Guthrie’s black history deals with the Prince Hall Masons, who established a Masonic lodge where black Freemasons could congregate. Hall was an abolitionist who helped make it possible for blacks to take part in freemasonry.

Unfortunately Little Africa was condemned by the city because it was built on a flood plain and is virtually impossible to even visit.

Related Photos
 Oklahoma Territorial Museum

Oklahoma Territorial Museum

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Richard Hall

Richard Hall is an award-winning newsroom developer, editor and blogger for NewsOK. He was born in Austin, Texas, spent his childhood in southern California and has lived in Norman since 1999. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2008. Read more ›