2021 Oklahoma History Conference
“Perspectives in History”
Thursday, April 22, and Friday, April 23, 2021
We invite you to join us online! All sessions and programs will be virtual and there are no in-person events at this year’s conference.
Sessions and programs are listed in central time. Live sessions will be available at a specific time, and the virtual audience will have the opportunity to ask the speaker questions via the online chat. Look for this symbol indicating professional development sessions.
Thursday, April 22
Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) Executive Director Trait Thompson
|10–10:50 a.m.|| “Endurance Strategies: Indigenous People in Central Oklahoma During the ‘Orgy of Exploitation,’” John Truden|
In 1940, Angie Debo wrote about the “orgy of exploitation,” a period between 1898 and 1934 in which corrupt politicians and lawyers descended on and dismembered the territories of the Five Tribes. This session will examine the strategies of Indigenous people during this period. Topics include Sauk trader Moses Keokuk, who battled the Lincoln County treasurer’s office in territorial court; Citizen Pottawatomi urban planner Catherine Burnett, who used her husband’s capital and her allotment to construct a successful trading center that did not fall under territorial jurisdiction; Chickasaw businessman E. B. Johnson’s use of a grafting firm to help him swindle Native people in eastern Oklahoma; and Absentee Shawnee Chief Big Jim’s decision to move his people to a remote area in hopes of being left alone.
John Truden is a PhD student at the University of Oklahoma. His dissertation will explore Indigenous-settler relationships in Oklahoma between Reconstruction and the early Cold War. He has collaborated with the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Kanza Nation, and the Metropolitan Library System.
|11–11:50 a.m.||“The Tulsa Council of Defense v. Andrew J. Smitherman,” Randy Hopkins
In October 1918, the Tulsa Council of Defense summoned Andrew J. Smitherman, editor and publisher of The Tulsa Star. The council was the most vigorous arm of Governor Robert Lee Williams’s State Council of Defense, the wholly extralegal “supreme law of the land” in Oklahoma during the World War. The summons grew out of the Tulsa Star headline, “Whites Adopted Slavery Methods,” and an accompanying article “Let Us Have Democracy,” which reported an instance of peonage in Tulsa and its dramatic resolution.
This presentation will review events reported in “Let Us Have Democracy,” including underappreciated instances of interracial cooperation and respect for the rule of law. The session will also explore the historiography and failure of Oklahoma historians to preserve the extensive documentation of the State Council of Defense, and conclude with the confrontation between the Tulsa Council and the newsman.
Randy Hopkins is a retired trial lawyer residing in Portland, Oregon. Born and raised in Oklahoma, he is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and the University of Texas School of Law. His article “Birthday of the Klan: The Tulsa Outrage of 1917,” was published in The Chronicles of Oklahoma.
|Noon–12:50 p.m.||Keynote Speaker Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo’s nine books of poetry include An American Sunrise, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, and She Had Some Horses. Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave won several awards, including the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award. She co-edited two anthologies of contemporary Native women’s writing: When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through and Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Native Women’s Writing of North America, one of the London Observer’s Best Books of 1997. She is the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation for Lifetime Achievement, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the United States Artist Fellowship. In 2014 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. A renowned musician, Harjo performs with her saxophone nationally and internationally, solo and with her band, the Arrow Dynamics. She has five award-winning CDs of music including the award-winning album Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears and Winding Through the Milky Way, which won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. Harjo’s latest is a book of poetry from Norton, An American Sunrise. In 2019, Joy Harjo was appointed the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
|1–1:50 p.m.||“Project VOICE: Visions of Inclusion, Culture, and Empathy,” Savanna Payne and Jamie Hinds Blank
ProjectVOICE attempts to introduce individuals in our community to the lives and stories of newcomers and English language learners served within the Oklahoma City Public School District. Through careful selection of mentor texts, students design and craft multiple stories reflecting their lives, settling on one for inclusion in a collection of personal narratives. With the partnership of the Oklahoma History Center, this published anthology of student-led work will become one of Oklahoma history’s primary resources focusing on the experiences, challenges, and opportunities faced by individuals new to the English language and the state of Oklahoma.
Savanna Payne and Jamie Hinds Blank both hold master’s degrees in Education and work in Oklahoma City Public Schools with English Learners and teachers. They develop and create curriculum, provide professional development, and advocate through ProjectVOICE.
|2–2:50 p.m.||“Good, Better, and Best Practices for Collections Care,” Jeff Briley, Mallory Covington, Jennifer Holt, and Karen Whitecotton
For collecting historical organizations, collections care is an essential but often overwhelming responsibility. Financial, facility, and staffing limitations can make it difficult for organizations to follow the “best practices” expected for collections care. This session will examine how organizations can make small but significant changes to collections care. While best practices are always the goal, this program will explore ways to mitigate issues until long-term solutions can be found. This roundtable will be an opportunity to learn from some of the best collection specialists and archivists in the state. Participants will be able to engage with panelists and ask questions.
This session will be presented by Oklahoma Historical Society staff members: Jeff Briley, deputy director of the Oklahoma History Center; Mallory Covington, CA, archival collections manager; Jennifer Holt, curator at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum; and Karen Whitecotton, director of collections for OKPOP.
“Developing a Strategic Plan for Your Historical Organization,” Kathy Dickson
Kathy Dickson is director of the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Museums and Historic Sites Division.
Friday, April 23
|9–9:50 a.m.||“The Misremembered ‘Uncle’ Wallace and ‘Aunt’ Minerva: Establishing Father-Daughter Kinship,” Shelby Ward
“Uncle” Wallace and “Aunt” Minerva Willis contributed to the musical legacy of Oklahoma and beyond. They performed Negro spirituals during the antebellum Indian Territory period. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers popularized some of their songs in the 1870s. In 2011 the State of Oklahoma designated a song credited to them, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” the state gospel song. While their talent has not been forgotten, the nature of their relationship has been misremembered. The mainstream history of Wallace and Minerva incorrectly defines them as a married couple. Upon examining primary sources, it is established that they were parent and child. Understanding their relationship sheds light on why Wallace may have received more credit and disrupts relationally-based slave stereotypes. The session will share how this research journey unfolded and the formation of a manuscript documenting this research. Ward will demonstrate how kinship relationships can be documented for the enslaved inhabitants of Indian Territory.
Shelby B. Ward is an attorney, Choctaw Freedman, community historian, and genealogist. She is a cofounder of the Beck Genealogical Society and the Oklahoma Freedmen Collective. Shelby has trained Knoxville Family History Center staff on the subject of African Diaspora genealogy, history, and culture.
“Historical Considerations in the Creek Nation Reservation Cases,” Susan Work
In finding that the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation continues to exist, the 2020 Supreme Court majority opinion in McGirt and the 2017 Tenth Circuit opinion in Murphy (affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2020) interpreted relevant federal treaties and statutes without accepting past assumptions. This presentation will discuss some of the more important historical perspectives discussed by the parties, amici, and the Court in these cases.
Susan Work, an attorney and a Choctaw Nation citizen, has represented several Oklahoma tribes, including the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, and Seminole Nations. Now semi-retired, she served as co-counsel on amici curiae briefs on behalf of historians and legal scholars in the Murphy and McGirt Creek Reservation cases decided by the Supreme Court last year. She is the author of The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, A Legal History (OU Press, 2010).
“The Ghosts of Creek County: Revisiting Oil and Indigenous Sovereignty,” Russell Cobb
Russell Cobb is an associate professor at the University of Alberta. He is the author of The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Class, and Lies in America’s Weirdest State (Bison Books, 2020) and editor of The Paradox of Authenticity in a Globalized World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). His journalism has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Slate, and The Nation, and on NPR.
“A Conversation with Hannibal B. Johnson: The Tulsa Race Massacre and Greenwood Rising,” Hannibal B. Johnson and Larry O’Dell
Hannibal B. Johnson is a Harvard Law School graduate and attorney in Tulsa. He has authored eight books, four of which focus on the topic of North Tulsa. He has received numerous awards for his writing, community work, and through his law practice. Johnson’s latest publication is Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples with its Historical Racial Trauma (Eakin Press, 2020). Johnson is a member of the federal 400 Years of African-American History Commission.
On-demand sessions will be available online beginning at 8 a.m. on Thursday, April 22. Conference attendees can watch these sessions at their convenience. Videos will be available throughout the entire conference. Look for this symbol indicating professional development sessions.
“Acquisitions as Activism: Preserving and Celebrating Creative and Cultural Legacies Through Collection Development,” Todd Fuller
This session will explore the history and motivations of creating archives devoted to the American West, especially for collecting Native or tribal nation-related materials and documents in the early- to mid-twentieth century. Fuller will also share reasons for establishing new archives of color at the Western History Collections (WHC), University of Oklahoma Libraries.
In the spring of 2019, the WHC began implementing a new collection initiative, the Contemporary Native American Authors Collection. Initially, the thrust of the initiative will focus on authors and creatives with connections to Oklahoma. The WHC seeks to celebrate the literary legacies of contemporary American Indian authors, thereby expanding the collections’ representative voices and increasing perspectives beyond the prevailing/dominant narrative.
Todd Fuller is curator of the Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma Libraries. He is also the author of two books, 60 Feet Six Inches and Other Distances from Home: The (Baseball) Life of Mose YellowHorse (Holy Cow! Press, 2002) and To the Disappearance (Mongrel Empire Press, 2015). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in numerous regional and national publications, including the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, American Literary Review, and Cimarron Review.
“A Disgraceful Blot: Oklahoma Territory and the Victorian Divorce Crisis,” Jennifer Lynch
This session will explore Oklahoma Territory’s role as the last divorce mill in the broader Victorian Divorce Crisis of the 1890s. The mill that thrived in Guthrie from 1891 to 1897 gained national notoriety and led to the creation of a moral congress to address the growing panic, with Oklahoma Territory used as a public example of the phenomenon and need for federal change in territorial divorce policy. This session is an extension of Lynch’s MA thesis research that studies not only the history of divorce in the US, but historical perspectives of divorce and the misremembrance of it as a modern cultural event. Lynch also explores the significance of the Victorian divorce-seekers in creating an avenue for discussions of gender and legal protection in domestic partnerships that is echoed today.
Jennifer Lynch is a historian and educator. She has served as an associate education curator at the Oklahoma History Center and is an instructor at the University of Central Oklahoma.
“Finding Isaac Rogers,” Nicka Sewell-Smith
Isaac Rogers was a well-known US Civil War veteran and deputy marshal who met his demise on a platform in Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, on April 21, 1897—but who was he outside of those titles and that singular event? This is the story of how oral history, traditional genealogy, and genetic genealogy collided to reveal the presenter’s ties to Rogers and their shared family origins and connections to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. This intimate and rarely seen account of a Five Tribes Freedmen family will share what can be found once ancestors are located on the Dawes Rolls and applications and how the information within those documents lead to mapping out a family history spanning more than ten generations. Sewell-Smith will discuss the use of additional record sets such as the US Civil War pension files, Cherokee rolls, state and federal census records, Freedmen rolls such as the Wallace and Kern-Clifton Rolls, congressional records, newspapers, and more.
Nicka Sewell-Smith is a professional genealogist and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She is a charter member of the Sons and Daughters of the Middle Passage, host of BlackProGen LIVE, and serves on the Oklahoma Freedmen Collective leadership team. Sewell-Smith is also on the faculty of the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute.
“Fluid Resistance: A Queer Analysis of Art and Politics in Oklahoma,” B Hinesley, Arlowe Clementine, Macy Jennings, Jacie Earwood, and Dr. Laura Arata
This discussion session sits at the intersection of queer protest art and activist initiatives in Oklahoma since the 1980s. Oklahoma State University graduate students from the Public History and Art History Departments provide historical and visual evidence of queer protest movements from Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Where possible, the panel will expand beyond the urban-normative into rural locations and include the importance of place within the examination of the historical shifts created through queer activist art. Additionally, examples from the AIDS crisis to modern artists working in queer aesthetics will demonstrate recurring themes that shift over time: funding streams, placement of art, political actions, and community building initiatives. This session will discuss the power and implications of art and protest in Oklahoma through thoughtful historical evidence and queer theories as a tool to combat the erasure of queer Oklahoman’s voices.
B Hinesley and Arlowe Clementine are public history graduate students, Macy Jennings and Jacie Earwood are art history graduate students, and moderator Dr. Laura Arata is an assistant professor in the history department, all of Oklahoma State University. The panel members have recently completed work on Savages and Princesses: The Persistence of Native American Stereotypes, an exhibit at the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar. This exhibit was toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.
“The Legend of Cora Youngblood: Oklahoma’s Forgotten Prodigy,” James P. Gregory Jr.
Cora Youngblood Corson was born in Republic, Missouri, on January 19, 1886. Her father purchased a plot in Anadarko, Oklahoma Territory, on August 6, 1901. There Corson formed the first band in the town with her sisters and friends. From this humble beginning, she became one of the most famous women in vaudeville. However, her career has been largely forgotten. Corson earned the moniker “Oklahoma’s Prodigy” and sold out theaters across the world. She created the Cora Youngblood Corson Sextette, which performed extravagant shows and garnered national acclaim. During her illustrious career, she picketed against the trusts that ran the theaters, was arrested, and subsequently blacklisted. This presentation will illuminate this extraordinary woman’s career and legacy.
James Gregory Jr. is a doctoral graduate student at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of The Story of One Marine: The World War I Letters and Photos of Pvt. Thomas L. Stewart (Hellgate Press, 2017) and editor of A Poet At War: The Story of a World War I Marine (Hellgate Press, 2018). Gregory’s focus is World War I, the Cold War, American Indian history, and digital humanities.
“A Mexican Oklahoman History,” Jorge Luis Chavez
Community building can take many forms, but at its core, the goal is to bring unity among individuals. That unity among families, friends, and neighbors brought recognition, strength, and a lasting legacy within Oklahoma. This legacy is often omitted from Oklahoma’s historical narratives. The Mexican and Mexican American community has existed since Oklahoma’s statehood. People of Mexican descent have been active participants in the state’s development since the beginning. The overarching civil rights movements seen across the United States in the 1950s and 1960s influenced and empowered those in Oklahoma to do the same. From then on, the Mexican and Mexican American communities displayed a great deal of unity and has continued to influence and impact the state. Modern Mexican and Mexican American community building has been studied throughout the US; however, there is still a considerable gap in the historiography of these communities outside of the American southwestern borderlands. This session provides perspective into Mexican and Mexican American community building and development in Oklahoma.
Jorge Luis Chavez is a graduate student studying public history at Oklahoma State University. He is also an associate curator of education at the Oklahoma History Center.
“Telling the Stories of Creek Allottees of Tvlse,” The Lucinda Hickory Research Institute
This session is part of The Lucinda Hickory Research Institute’s efforts to educate, promote, and preserve the allotment experience of our Mvskoke Creek ancestors. Tulsa’s Muscogee (Creek) past has been obscured by its mythology as the erstwhile “Oil Capital of the World.” This session aims to correct that narrative by telling the stories of allottees whose lands held the riches that made the city famous. In particular, we will raise awareness about Tuckabache, a central figure in removal, the Civil War, and Tvlse tribal town’s reconstruction. Tuckabache’s story reflects the tragedy of Oklahoma guardianship, which tore families apart and dispossessed Indigenous people from their land and wealth as oil was discovered. Part of the new Gathering Place park sits on Tuckabache’s land. There is no public acknowledgment of the original allottee, nor any public discussion of how his grandchildren were divested of that land to make way for Maple Ridge, Tulsa’s first suburb. The speakers will aim to understand how oil industry tycoons such as Charles Page dispossessed American Indians of their land and then consolidated their reputations as philanthropists. We do this in the hopes of providing a framework for truth-telling and reconciliation.
Tatianna Duncan is founder and owner of the Lucinda Hickory Research Institute. Russell Cobb is an associate professor at the University of Alberta and author of The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Class, and Lies in America’s Weirdest State (Bison Books, 2020).
“Uncovering Oral History Perspectives in Oklahoma,” Karen Neurohr and Mallory Covington
Oral history collections exist throughout Oklahoma in local museums, heritage centers, county historical societies and libraries, and academic institutions. Existing oral history collections, which may date back several decades, pose concerns for preservation and access. A new outreach effort in Oklahoma is ListenOK, a statewide guide to oral history collections. Developed by the Oklahoma State University Library, the guide identifies and describes thousands of oral history interviews and their locations and provides a centralized searching point for these unique collections. ListenOK offers researchers and the general public information about Oklahoma’s rich culture and history through the voices of those who lived it.
The library partners with institutions that provide information about their collections. Dr. Neurohr will demonstrate ListenOK, share stories about project outcomes, and offer information about how to participate. Mallory Covington will discuss her ongoing work conducting an inventory of the Oklahoma Historical Society oral history collections. Together, the speakers hope to inspire participants to uncover and preserve existing collections or undertake new oral histories.
Dr. Karen Neurohr is a Professor in the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at the Oklahoma State University Library. In addition to conducting oral history research for the projects “Remembering Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel: Okie Poet and Dust Bowl Emigrant,” “O-STATE Stories,” and “Spotlighting Oklahoma,” she coordinates ListenOK. Mallory Covington, CA, is the archival collections manager for the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division. In addition to assisting patrons with historical research, she is conducting a thorough inventory of oral histories in the collection and sharing inventory lists for ListenOK.
“Washita Love Child: The Life and Times of Jesse Ed Davis,” Douglas K. Miller
Beginning in the 1960s, Kiowa-Comanche guitar slinger Jesse Ed Davis rose to great prominence in the music business. Born in Norman and raised in Oklahoma City, Davis first honed his chops with country star Conway Twitty and blues icon Taj Mahal before becoming a major studio and live performer representing the Tulsa Sound from his new home in California. His work with fellow Oklahoman Leon Russell led to gigs with Bob Dylan, John Lennon, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and other rock and roll legends. Yet, there are no elaborate scholarly histories of Jesse Ed Davis, his iconic contributions to popular music, or his career that both reflected and transcended his Native background. Indeed, Davis’s success first stemmed from his incredible musical talent. But if his musical reputation kept his phone ringing, then his identity as an Indigenous artist infused his experiences with deeper meaning. Through an exploration of this principal theme, this session will celebrate an underappreciated musician whose remarkable life can be simultaneously and uniquely told as music history, American Indian history, and Oklahoma history.
Douglas K. Miller’s first book, Indians on the Move: Native American Mobility and Urbanization in the Twentieth Century (UNC Press, 2019), discusses how and why Native peoples imagined cities as places for new Indigenous futures in the twentieth century. He has two new book projects underway: one about Jesse Ed Davis’s remarkable life and career and one on histories of American Indian incarceration from the colonial period to the present.
“William Faulkner Was Right: Why How We Talk About History Matters,” Dr. Amber J. Godwin
Schools in the United States tend to be framed upon Eurocentric ideologies (Abela & Dague, 2020), thereby silencing the many voices and experiences that create the fabric of the United States. By creating classrooms where students either acclimate to the colonial mindset or do not, teachers force students to choose between being included (Brayboy, 2014) or ostracizing themselves in favor of a subjective, sometimes standards-based truth. However, our country’s very nature as a gumbo-style melting pot means instruction must be based on more than only European ideologies. Recent attention to civil unrest has highlighted an underlying issue in public schools: equal education does not mean equal representation in school curricula. Adding other voices in instruction to Social Studies coursework, particularly through storytelling, can provide a more robust understanding of the communities in which schools exist. This session will explore strategies to offer inclusive instruction and ways to encourage Social Studies instruction that focuses not only on content-based instructional methodologies but skill-building activities that can help develop better-informed citizens of tomorrow.
Dr. Amber J. Godwin is an assistant clinical professor at Sam Houston State University. Her research aims to develop critical thinking experiences for learners and explore interventions that enhance social studies education. She was previously employed in Florida and Texas school systems as a teacher. She has served as an essay scorer for AP College Board, a contractor for McGraw-Hill, and a question writer.
“Women of Washita,” Kate Roesch
When people talk about the Battle of the Washita, they typically discuss heavy hitters like George Custer, Black Kettle, and Joel Elliott. What many do not realize is that women played a significant role in the Battle of the Washita. For instance, had Southern Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle listened to his wife Medicine Woman Later on the night of November 26, the events may have played out much differently. This session will discuss the perspectives of women from settlers to Cheyenne, and even the military, shedding light on a topic that is usually overlooked.
Kate Roesch is the education ranger at Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, where she works with local teachers and facilitates student-centered education programs. Roesch has also worked on the National Mall in Washington, DC, at Ford’s Theatre and Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, as well as in Virginia at Manassas Battlefield and George Washington Memorial Parkway.
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This program is sponsored in part by Oklahoma Humanities (OH) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of OH or NEH.