The African American Civil Rights Movement in Oklahoma

Protest at Bishop's Restaurant in Oklahoma City, June 1, 1963
(20246.0038.083.01, John Melton Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).

African Americans have a long history in Oklahoma. They first came to Oklahoma during the forced removal of American Indians, both as slaves and as free members of a tribe. During the Civil War many African American men in Indian Territory joined the war on both the Union and Confederates sides. After the Civil War, slaves became free. Known as freedmen, many continued living among the Indians. Many African Americans participated in the Oklahoma land runs. Some came from the southeast in hopes of new opportunities to own land and escape persecution. Some African Americans worked together to create all black towns. E. P. McCabe, for example, founded Langston, Oklahoma. Other African Americans also lived among whites in other communities.

During the Civil Rights movement African Americans fought to achieve equality in American society. They fought for the right to vote, equal access to public places, and equal education. The Civil Rights movement fought against racism and discrimination. Racism is when someone judges others based on the color of their skin. Discrimination is similar to racism but applies to judging and mistreating people based on religion, background, class, race, or other attributes. The Civil Rights movement occurred during the mid-twentieth century, although the movement continues today as African Americans, people of different races and others in America continue to struggle for justice and equality.

When most people think of the Civil Rights era, they often think of events that happened in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. However, events of national importance to the Civil Rights movement happened in Oklahoma. As Oklahomans we must remember the atrocities, the long fought struggles, and the victories of the Civil Rights era in order to understand our culture and our laws today.

The struggle for civil rights continues today as people of various races, backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation, and religions are not always treated equally and with respect. For example, you discriminate whenever you call someone gay as an insult. Bullying is an example of discrimination that happens today when people do not respect or understand someone who is different from them.

The following pages will help you learn about the Civil Rights Movement in Oklahoma. As you read, think about what you can do to continue the Civil Rights Movement in your school or community.