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First Black mayor of former sundown town: “You don’t run from your past”

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor
Published: Last Updated on

Darrell Davis can’t get his phone to stop ringing after Edmond, Oklahoma residents elected him the first Black mayor of a community that once banned Black people from living there.

In the former sundown town, only 5 percent of the roughly 81,000 residents identify as African American. Nevertheless,  voters overwhelmingly chose longtime city councilman Darrell Davis to lead the city into the future. 

“It was surreal, I couldn’t believe it actually happened,” Edmond Mayor-elect Davis said in an interview with The Black Wall St. Times. Davis said the support from the community has been overwhelming.

“The reaction has been very, very positive. Ever since that night, I’m still getting congratulatory phone calls or texts or emails.” He’s hoping the messages will stop after a few days.

Sundown Town

But his April 5 win catapulted him into the spotlight, while also illuminating Edmond’s checkered past.

Similar to other communities in pre-statehood Oklahoma Territory, an 1889 Federal land run birthed Edmond. Though Edmond was home to the Territory’s first church, first newspaper, and first public schoolhouse, the immoral ignorance of racism quickly overtook the new town.

Historical archives indicate that by 1905, Edmond officials had created a sundown ordinance. Oklahoma was home to several sundown towns. These communities either unofficially or legally excluded Black people from living in the city through intimidation or physical violence.

A 1927 University of Oklahoma Master’s thesis from Edmond High School graduate Stella Barton Fordice detailed one of the earliest accounts of the city’s history.

“Early in its history Edmond passed an ordinance forbidding more Negroes to locate in the town. Gradually those living there moved away. About 1905 they were told that their numbers did not justify a separate school. Then sometime later when only two Negro families remained in town the citizens signed a petition asking that they move away. They moved without any disturbance,” Fordice wrote, according to the Edmond Historical Society Museum.

A decades-long record of serving Edmond

But Davis is no stranger to the city. The Cincinnati, Ohio native and Morehouse College graduate moved to Edmond more than 25 years ago after receiving a job with Tinker Air Force Base. It wasn’t long before he got involved in his community. First, he served as a member of a transportation board to improve safety. He then served on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for 15 years, before becoming Edmond’s first Black city councilman in 2011. After serving nearly a decade on council, and with his retirement from Tinker in January of 2021, a talk with his wife confirmed it was the right time for this next journey in his life.

“When I had the conversation with my wife, I said ‘hey, I still have some more energy in me. Let’s do this for a few more years. Then I can finally hang it up.”

Why race matters in Edmond Mayoral results

While local media reports were quick to highlight how far Edmond has come by electing Davis, it was only last year that Edmond received national news when a Black delivery driver was detained by private residents near a gated community for simply trying to do his job. It’s also the city where in 2019 police officers shot and killed unarmed Isaiah Lewis, who was experiencing a mental health crisis.

Moreover, some residents have expressed irritation on social media that Davis’s ethnicity is being reported at all. Some residents in the 81 percent White community feel that the best way to move past Edmond’s racist past is to not talk about it at all.

“The majority of us recognize that Edmond has a checkered past,” Davis said. “You don’t run away from your past. You use it as a foundation to go forward.”

Looking towards the future

Davis explained that education is key to moving forward.

“What I’m doing is just letting people know and understand things were one way a few years ago. Let’s not keep it that way. Let’s create a community where everyone is welcome, where everyone can prosper, where everyone can raise their kids, their families, feel safe and have a good time.”

Davis ran on a platform of improving public safety, transportation, and quality of life. Now, he takes the helm of a city recognized as one of the safest in the country. He said he wants to be an example for all Edmond residents. He hopes his example encourages other Black and brown families to make Edmond the place to raise their families.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue serving the community and seeing where we go from here,” Davis said.

2 comments

gregbreakpointgmailcom April 12, 2021 - 6:23 pm

Congratulations are in order but why is nothing ever done about the current Sundown Towns in Oklahoma in 2021? Everyone knows them and panics if they turn the wrong way at the wrong time. How is this allowed today? Only in Oklahoma? Probably not but we could at least shine the light on these communities now hoping the cockroaches will scatter…

DWE Williams May 17, 2021 - 7:37 am

What towns are still active Sundown towns in Oklahoma?

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