Segregation is when people of different races are kept separate, either by law or by custom, and it existed in Oklahoma. For example, African Americans could not use the same bathrooms or drink from the same water fountains as whites. In restaurants African Americans had to use a back entrance and were not allowed to eat with white people. There were also rules that said they could not live in white neighborhoods.

White children and black children even went to separate schools. The schools were supposed to be “separate but equal.” However, they were never equal. African American children’s schools used old textbooks that the white schools had already used and worn out. Their schools were not as nice as the white schools.

The laws, known as the Jim Crow Laws, are what made segregation legal. When Oklahoma became a state President Theodore Roosevelt refused to approve the constitution if lawmakers wrote segregation laws, so they left it out. As soon as President Roosevelt approved the constitution, however, the very first bill that they wrote and passed was Senate Bill No. 1, which made Jim Crow Laws part of Oklahoma law. It would take many years to get rid of this law. In 1910 lawmakers added the “grandfather clause” to the Oklahoma constitution. This clause made it harder, almost impossible, for African Americans to vote. However, in 1915 the US Supreme Court said this clause was unconstitutional in the case Guinn v. United States. In 1916 Oklahoma passed a voter registration law that still tried to prevent African Americans from voting. I. W. Lane from Red Bird, Oklahoma, sued the state of Oklahoma for not allowing him to register. The case, Lane v. Wilson, went to the US Supreme Court in 1939 that again ruled that the law unconstitutional.

This “Jim Crow Funeral,” at the Oklahoma State Capitol was held the same day
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington DC,
August 28, 1963
(20246.38.106.12, John Melton Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).

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