Oklahoma History Center
Red Bird

Red Bird, located in Wagoner County five miles southeast of Coweta, is one of more than fifty All-Black towns of Oklahoma and one of only thirteen still existing. The Barber and Ruffin families settled in the Red Bird community before 1900, and other families soon followed. The settlement attained a post office in 1902, with A. A. White as the first postmaster. In 1889 E. L. Barber, one of the town's developers, organized the First Baptist Church, the largest church in Red Bird. He also became Red Bird's first justice of the peace and served as an early mayor. The Red Bird Investment Company recruited African American families from all parts of the South to settle in the newly established town. More than six hundred people attended the grand opening at Red Bird, August 10, 1907.

In 1919 Professor J. F. Cathey, the principal of the school, planned Miller Washington High School, which flourished until 1959 when it closed for lack of students. The high school and Red Bird City Hall are both listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 84003448 and NR 84003450). Sharp's Grocery/Masonic Hall and the Red Bird Drugstore, both constructed in 1910, are the two commercial properties listed in the Oklahoma Landmarks Inventory. In 1938 I. W. Lane, a former mayor of Red Bird, successfully challenged a law, similar to the grandfather clause, that made it difficult for African Americans to register to vote in Wagoner County. Like many rural towns in Oklahoma, Red Bird faced devastation and population decline brought about by falling cotton prices and by the onset of the Great Depression. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the town was steadily rebuilding.

Larry O'Dell, Red Bird, in The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Dianna Everett, et al., eds. (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2009), 1265 - 1266.

George 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, 1982). Arthur Tolson, The Black Oklahomans: A History, 1541-1972 (New Orleans, La.: Edwards Printing Company, 1972).


Red Bird depot

Map of Red Bird

Sign announcing land availability in new town of Red Bird

Early Mayor E. L. Barber in front of the depot

I. W. Lane and the Cotton Gin he partially owned, c. 1910