Oklahoma History Center

Lee Tatum and his wife, Mary, applied for a post office designation in 1895, beginning the town of Tatums in Indian Territory. The town, located in Carter County four miles northeast of Ratliff City, is one of more than fifty All-Black towns of Oklahoma and one of only thirteen still existing. In addition to running the post office, the Tatums operated a small grocery in one corner of their house. Henry Taylor owned the community's largest home and offered overnight accommodations for travelers. In addition to his postal duties, Lee Tatum was appointed U.S. marshal. Tatums residents soon established a church and school.

A hotel was built in 1899, a blacksmith shop in 1900, a cotton gin and sawmill in 1910, and a motor garage in 1918. Oil wells were drilled in the area in the 1920s, bringing wealth to several of Tatums's farmers and landowners. The Julius Rosenwald Fund helped build a brick school in 1925, and a gymnasium was added in 1949; the building is still standing. Tatums's Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NR 94001519), was completed in 1919. In 1927 Norman Studios filmed a silent movie, Black Gold, in Tatums and enlisted Marshal L. B. Tatums to play a role. Although a copy of the film cannot be found and probably no longer exists, the script and camera are preserved at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in California. Like most rural towns, Tatums experienced the crippling effects of the Great Depression, and many residents migrated to urban areas. At the end of the twentieth century the population stood at 172, and the town awaited economic revival.

Larry O'Dell, Tatums, in The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Dianna Everett, et al., eds. (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2009), 1461.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: George O. Carney, Historic Resources of Oklahoma's All-Black Towns: A Preservation Profile, The Chronicles of Oklahoma 69 (Summer 1991). Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Journey Toward Hope: A History of Blacks in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Arthur Tolson, The Black Oklahomans: A History, 1541-1972 (New Orleans, La.: Edwards Print Co., 1974). Jewell Carter Varner, A History of the Tatums Community (M.A. thesis, Kansas State Teachers College, 1950).

Map of Tatums

Tatums School, c. 1917

Lee Tatums

Mary Tatums

Advertisement for a play called "Black Gold" about the oil fields in Tatum