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Oklahoma Memories

A.C. Hamlin Born in February, 1881

2010-02-15

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A new recruit in the struggle for justice this week on Oklahoma Memories. Despite strong efforts to do so, early state legislatures of Oklahoma could not completely silence the voice of the state's black population. A.C. Hamlin was one such voice.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

Following the end of the Civil War in 1865 and for several decades afterwards, freed slaves migrated out of the Deep South toward places north and west. Known as the exodusters a large percentage of this migrating population moved initially towards Kansas then Oklahoma. With the beginning of the great land openings in Oklahoma in the late 1880s and early 1890s many of these exodusters began a "new exodus," hoping for a new start in the new territory. Among the hundreds of African-American families entering Oklahoma at that time was the Hamlin family originally from Tennessee. The Hamlins first settled in Kansas, then with the opening of Oklahoma Territory moved to a claim near Guthrie in Logan County. As a child in Guthrie Albert Comstock, or A.C. Hamlin, experienced the early death of his father and accepted the responsibility of helping hold the family together. Following the advice of his mother Hamlin stayed in school receiving the education that he began in Kansas. Hamlin, soon after graduation, married Katie Weaver and began a family of his own.

A.C. Hamlin as a young adult was active in local politics and church business, and it was these connections that helped him to make history in 1908. In 1908 Albert Comstock Hamlin became the first African-American elected to the state legislature. Remarkably enough, at the very same time as his election, white Oklahoma politicians were working hard to remove voting rights and political power from the African-American community. Despite the obvious prejudice against him, Hamlin not only served his term in the state legislature but also introduced a number of important bills and obtained passage of, among other things, the bill creating the state school for blind, deaf, and orphaned colored children at Taft. Hamlin also experienced moderate success in his fight for stricter observance of the Sabbath and for greater services on the state's segregated rail system. By 1910 the overwhelmingly white legislature had created laws prohibiting black voting, and Hamlin lost his bid for reelection.

As if being the first at anything wasn't enough, A.C. Hamlin endured being an African-American legislator in the very hostile prejudiced environment that was early-day politics in Oklahoma. It was in this week of February 1881 that the Hamlin family celebrated the arrival of young Albert Comstock into the world. Little did they know then the progress he would make or the paths to equality that he would struggle to open.

You can learn more about the African-American story by visiting our exhibit Realizing the Dream at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol. Oklahoma Memories is produced by the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.