Trailblazing 'Realtist' leaves homeowners as legacy in Oklahoma City
Carl B. Carbin, even after 60 years, sold houses nearly to the end.
He died Jan. 9 at age 91, after helping make homeowners out of Lord only knows how many folks — first as a Realtist, a member of a civil rights organization for African Americans in real estate, then as a Realtor after the Realtors let in black people.
Three of the five comments left by friends and family on Rolfe Funeral Home's tribute page as of Wednesday mentioned it. That bespeaks a legacy.
"Mr. Carbin sold me my first and only home. Great man. Rest in Paradise," J.S. said.
F.F.B offered: "My condolences to the family. Mr. Carbin sold me my house 53 years ago. What a blessing to me and my family. I will keep you in my prayers. Be blessed."
S.L. recalled, "Mr. Carbin was such a wonderful man. I remember sitting and talking for hours with him. He sold me my home. He will truly be missed."
I never met him. But here, in recognition of his life and work, is a feature about him that ran on the cover of The Oklahoman's Real Estate section just less than a year ago, on Feb. 23, 2019. The headline was "Living history, Carl Carbin helped blaze a trail for black Realtors in Oklahoma City."
Black and white existed in almost separate spheres when Carl B. Carbin entered the real estate business, all-white neighborhoods shunning people of color, with the Fair Housing Act still years away.
The real estate industry itself, 60-plus years ago, didn’t offer coursework for aspiring agents. All it provided was a hefty book with a spoiler of a title: “Questions and Answers on Real Estate.”
“We studied that book,” Carbin, 90, recalled recently, “and when we got to the point where we thought we knew everything, they gave us the test to be a real estate associate.”
He passed on the first try.
One thing hasn’t changed, though.
“Buyers are basically the same,” he said. “Some want two bedrooms, some want three bedrooms, some want four bedrooms, in all price ranges.”
Then and now, he said, buyers want what they want.
Carbin was born in Texas and grew up on a farm near Sulphur Springs, about 80 miles northeast of Dallas. In 1945, though, the family moved to Oklahoma.
“I was in high school,” Carbin said. “We moved from Texas to Oklahoma because there was nothing to do in Texas, no jobs or anything.”
They lived near Muskogee, where he worked in a variety of jobs. He enlisted in the Army in 1952, and spent his hitch in Missouri, where he worked as a mess sergeant. After he was discharged in 1954, he moved to Oklahoma City, where he found a job at the post office.
He used the GI bill to attend Central State University, now the University of Central Oklahoma, in Edmond. Colleges across the country were just beginning to integrate, including Central State.
“When I enrolled, there were only seven black people at Central State,” Carbin recalled, “and I was one of them.”
After he graduated in 1959, he crossed paths with Henry Floyd Sr., an attorney, professor and businessman who loomed large on Oklahoma City’s civil rights scene. He recruited Carbin to work for his firm, ABC Realty. A few years later, Floyd urged Carbin to pursue his broker’s license. He studied, took the exam and then promptly packed the family up for a busy week at New York’s World Fair.
“I forgot about everything,” Carbin said. “Then all of a sudden I came back, and I had passed the broker's exam.”
He also worked for ACA Realty — All Customers Appreciated — before striking out on his own in the early 1960s to open Carbin Realty, 1031 NE 36.
He couldn’t become a Realtor because the National Association of Realtors wouldn’t accept members of color. Instead, he became a Realtist with National Association of Real Estate Brokers, founded in 1947 as an equal opportunity and civil rights advocacy group for black people in real estate.
Carbin was active in the group and served as regional vice president in the 1960s. Once it dropped racial restrictions a few years later, Carbin did join the National Association of Realtors, as well as the Oklahoma City Metro Association of Realtors, where he was the first black to serve on a board.
Challenges loomed for a black agent serving a black clientele.
“There weren’t too many houses available then,” Carbin said, “and if there were, Caucasians would own the house.”
Blacks were moving into neighborhoods in northeast Oklahoma City, he said.
“Later on, areas like Creston Hills began to open up, and blacks began to buy in those areas,” he said.
Creston Hills — bounded by what is now Martin Luther King Avenue, the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad to the east, and NE 16 and NE 28 — developed in the 1920s as an all-white neighborhood. Blacks began moving in as whites moved out during the late 1950s, a familiar pattern to Carbin.
“At the time white people lived in all those areas, there were no black people,” he said. “But when one black person bought in, other blacks would move in. It was OK then.”
Oklahoma City itself has grown and changed in the years since Carbin got into real estate. Once-empty fields now bristle with development while old neighborhoods have gotten swallowed up by now-familiar landmarks.
“There used to be neighborhoods where OU (Medical Center) is,” Carbin said. “I actually sold in those neighborhoods.”
At 90 years old, Carbin has slowed his pace but hasn’t stopped.
“I’m still selling — I still feel pretty good,” he said. “When I get up in the mornings, sometimes I don’t feel too good, but once I get around, I feel pretty good. Like they say, when you stop, everything else stops.”
Rest in peace, Mr. Carbin.
Email Real Estate Editor Richard Mize at email@example.com.