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Oklahoma boasts more historic all-Black towns than any other state in the nation. The more than 50 historic towns, 13 of which remain today, are finally getting the recognition they’ve long deserved.
The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities is unveiling a new exhibit at the Henry Zarrow Center for Arts and Education that highlights the trailblazing all-Black towns that grew and prospered before and after Oklahoma became a state.
From Redbird to Rentiesville, and from Boley to Brooksville, the rich legacy of Black (and Native) community builders is largely absent from Oklahoma’s public school textbook. Boley remains one of the few cities in the nation that hosts an annual Black rodeo, and the Blues Fest of Rentiesvile remains intact.
In a state that has banned conversations in schools on racial topics that make students feel uncomfortable, organizers of the new exhibit hope it gives people a better understanding of this untold history, along with supporting the remaining all-Black towns today.
“These are also not just set in the past. They have a presence, they are there, they have a future that the leaders of these towns are working for,” Dr. Dayne Riley of the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities told News Channel 6.
Exhibit honors Oklahoma’s all-Black towns
The story of the white supremacist attack on the Historic Greenwood District and efforts to rebuild Black Wall Street have taken center stage in recent years. Yet other communities are also making an impact to restore their legacy for future generations.
Many of the all-Black towns were formed by migrating Black entrepreneurs from the South and Black Indians who were granted tribal allotments.
In Tullahassee, leaders have joined a national effort to provide reparations for communities harmed by racism and neglect. In recent years, the city’s mayor has orchestrated a 30-day clean up and other initiatives to bring new citizens and attention to the community.
A Black Hollywood filmmaker recently moved from Los Angeles to the Tulsa area as he works to build a film studio in the all-Black town of Taft, which gave the United States its first Black woman mayor in 1973, according to the Oklahoma History Society.
“One of the most destructive forces enacted on the Black community is this forced narrative of powerlessness and trauma,” filmmaker Mylrell Miner told The Black Wall Street Times last year. “By empowering the stories and voices of our community with access, we can rewrite this narrative and create a space for proper representation in media and film.”
Black towns conference coming in February
Tulsa’s new exhibit honoring the more than 50 current and historic all-Black towns throughout Oklahoma features documents, pictures and film. The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities will also host a conference on Feb. 18 titled, “All-Black Towns of Oklahoma.”
UNC professor Karla Slocum, mayors from Tullahassee and Rentiesville, historian Hannibal Johnson, historian Eli Grayson, educator and journalist Q Lansana, and state senator Kevin Matthews will attend the event.
“So going and experiencing these places would be one thing, but also being aware of them and thinking about them, and talking to the people from these places to learn more about them,” said Dr. Riley.