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2023 Oklahoma History Symposium
“Perspectives in History”

The Oklahoma Historical Society presented the 2023 Oklahoma History Symposium, at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City on Saturday, April 22. This one-day event included a keynote by Dr. Karlos K. Hill, seven historical sessions, four professional development sessions, a book signing, and exhibitors. Thank you to everyone who helped to make the symposium a success.

In our continuing effort to make historical and cultural programming available, the Oklahoma History Symposium was free and open to the public.

Sponsored by

Preservation Oklahoma

Symposium Schedule

10 a.m. Meeting of the OHS Membership
10:15 a.m.Organizational Meeting of the OHS Board of Directors
10:30–11:15 a.m.Exhibitors and Book Signing with Trait Thompson, Dr. Ghazi Rayan, and Bruce Day
11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.Lunch Break
11:30 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Headshot of Karlos Hill Keynote: “Clara Luper‘s Radical Love: A Tribute to the 65th Anniversary of the Katz Drugstore Sit-in, ” Dr. Karlos Hill, regents’ professor, Clara Luper Department of African and African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma
Dr. Hill is the author of three groundbreaking books: Beyond The Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory, The Murder of Emmett Till: A Graphic History, and The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History. Dr. Hill founded the Tulsa Race Massacre Oklahoma Teacher’s Institute to support teaching the history of the race massacre to thousands of middle school and high school students. Hill also serves on the board of the Clara Luper Legacy Committee and the Board of Scholars for Facing History and Ourselves and is actively engaged in other community initiatives working toward racial reconciliation.

Historical Sessions

12:30–1 p.m. “Lead, Zinc, and Influenza: Environmental Rule in Bartlesville, Oklahoma,” James P. Gregory Jr., doctoral candidate, University of Oklahoma

Bartlesville, Oklahoma, once housed a vibrant community of Polish immigrants who worked in the zinc smelters before and during World War I. They congregated in ethnic enclaves around the smelters outside the city's limits. As the city of Bartlesville grew, its need for expansion conflicted with these immigrant neighborhoods. To achieve its ends, the municipal government used nativist and progressive policies such as police interference, quarantining, and environmental rule in its efforts to remove the immigrants. The 1918 outbreak of influenza offered city leaders a distinctive opportunity to blame and further isolate the workers’ population and force them out of their homes. The city’s abuse of power erased an entire community from the area and its historical record.

1:10–1:40 p.m. “Oklahoma Freedom Fighters: Black Civil War Soldiers of Indian Territory,” Angela Y. Walton-Raji, co-founder of the Choctaw Chickasaw Freedmen Association

From the US Colored Troops to the Indian Home Guards, Black Union soldiers came from many parts of Indian Territory and the Five Tribes. From 1861 when enslaved Blacks followed Chief Opothole Yahola into Kansas, enslaved men from these tribes found themselves now in Free Kansas, seizing their freedom immediately and joining the Union Army. Other enslaved men, closer to Arkansas, escaped to the Union fort in Fort Smith and joined the United States Colored Troops.

Those in Kansas enlisted in the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry and would see action in Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory. These units later became part of the US Colored Troops, and others from the Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee Nations joined the Indian Home Guards. They were among the first Black soldiers to see Civil War action in 1862. This session will look at the history of these soldiers, the regiments, and the battles in which they engaged. These are the stories of men who fought for and won their freedom on the western frontier and whose stories are not widely known.

A recording is not available for this session.

1:50–2:20 p.m. “Genie Boy Goes to Hollywood,” Cindy Donovan Wallis, director, Atoka Museum and Civil War Cemetery; Gwen Walker, site manager, Atoka Museum

This session will explore the fascinating life and accomplishments of Gene Smith (1932–2018). “Genie Boy” was raised in Stringtown, Oklahoma, and learned the cowboy way of life from locals, including Clark McEntire. His childhood playmates were the McEntire kids: Alice, Pake, Reba, and Susie. He later moved to California, where he lived in Compton, and worked at the now-famous El Fig Stables. He became a member of the Screen Actors Guild and worked as one of the first Black stuntmen in Hollywood. Breaking color barriers, Smith did stunt work in The Virginian and The Outcasts, which was noted for being the first TV western with an African American co-star. In the 1971 movie Skin Games, starring James Garner and Louis Gossett Jr., Smith portrays an enslaved person from a noble African tribe. The dark comedy ends with Smith dancing with leading lady Susan Clark after escaping slavery and going to Mexico. In 2018 Gene Smith was inducted into the National Multicultural Western Heritage Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, and recognized for being a trailblazer. Before his death in 2018, Genie Boy shared his perspective, unforgettable memories, and photos with the Atoka Museum.

2:30–3 p.m. “Woven Resilience: An Ethnoarchaeological Approach to Social Change in Cherokee Baskets,” Zachary Taylor Qualls, doctoral candidate, University of Tulsa

This session will discuss a brief history of Cherokee basket making and explore cultural continuity and the expression of Cherokee identity by interviewing basketweavers and examining baskets from museum collections. The speaker asserts this data will support a narrative connecting the continuation of basketmaking from the past into the present, while other forms of Cherokee material culture are replaced or ceased in production. This research aims to gain a deeper understanding of cultural identity and the continuity of material culture, specifically baskets, during the time of white contact, Indian Removal, and economic instability. This approach elevates the voices of basket makers to understand how Cherokee artistic traditions speak to cultural identity through the extreme historical trauma and the massive dislocation of the Cherokee people. Rather than simply describing the types of work basket makers produce, their stories and voices lead the narrative as to why this source of artistic tradition resiliently continues today. The presenter aims to demonstrate that baskets are not arbitrary things, but maintain and hold political and social power when viewed in political and social spaces.

A recording is not available for this session.

3:10–3:40 p.m. “Revived and Reformed: Michael A. Shadid, Populism, and the Nation's First Cooperative Hospital,” Benjamin Folger, doctoral student, University of Oklahoma

Lebanese immigrant and physician Michael Shadid established a successful medical practice in western Oklahoma; by 1929, he earned over $15,000 a year treating farmers. During his medical education, Shadid maintained he was “bitten by some filtrable virus and turned into a reformer.” When the Depression arrived in rural Oklahoma, Shadid began fundraising and selling memberships to his revolutionary Cooperative Hospital in Elk City, charging $25 for a year’s worth of medical care. Shadid argued that Oklahomans would have better access to scrupulous health care under his model. His vision was to provide Oklahomans with improved access to hospital care and medical specialists, a rarity in western Oklahoma and most rural communities in the 1920s. Soon, doctors throughout Oklahoma pushed back against such radical reform. Shadid’s hospital sparked intervention from the American Medical Association, county medical societies, the Oklahoma Legislature, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Shadid’s ideas about accessible health care appealed to the frayed strands of agrarian socialism that were rapidly declining in post-WWI Oklahoma. At least 15,000 farmers endorsed Shadid by 1939.

3:50–4:20 p.m. “Contesting Memory in Oklahoma: Native and Settler Reactions to the ‘Indian Centennial’ of 1948,” Martha Beliveau, graduate student, University of Oklahoma

This presentation explores the so-called “Indian Centennial” in October 1948 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, when a group of Native and settler boosters commemorated one hundred years since the removal of the Five Tribes to Indian Territory. Celebrating 1848 as the year of an intercouncil meeting of the Five Tribes, the event included a parade and crafts fair to commemorate what the boosters framed as the Five Tribes’ hundred years of progress since forced relocation to Indian Territory. In the months leading up to the event, local newspapers narrated the boosters’ preparations for the celebration and how different individuals within Native nations reacted to the centennial.

A recording is not available for this session.

4:30–5 p.m. “A Great Success: How Three Women Helped Create the First Library in Indian Territory,” Michelle Skinner, reference librarian, Chickasha Public Library

In 1903, several women’s organizations in the newly-established community of Chickasha saw the need for a public library. They applied for a grant from Andrew Carnegie, raised money, solicited book donations, and successfully opened the first free public library in Indian Territory on March 23, 1905.

This session will discuss the roles of three specific women who each contributed to the success of the Carnegie Library (now the Chickasha Public Library) in different ways and how they utilized their knowledge and influence for the greater good: Stella Brown, Frances Hamilton, and Sallie Thompson. The speaker will highlight the far-reaching impact of these women as essential to the continued intellectual and cultural life of Oklahoma communities.

Professional Development Sessions

12:30–1 p.m. “Oklahoma Heritage Preservation Grant Program: How the OHS Can Help You Collect, Preserve, and Share History,” Nicole Harvey, director of strategic initiatives, Oklahoma Historical Society

This session will provide guidance for groups interested in applying for the Oklahoma Heritage Preservation Grant Program. Each year this grants-in-aid program sets aside funds to award grants typically ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. Learn which organizations and projects are eligible, how to apply, and the criteria used to evaluate grant proposals.

1:10–2 p.m. “Historic Preservation Perspectives: The Edwards Store Approach,” June Lester Chubbuck, board member and treasurer, The Edwards Store, Inc.; Chantry Sipress-Banks, executive director, Preservation Oklahoma, Inc.

The Edwards Store, Inc. strategy aims to save, restore, and share the Edwards-Hardaway Homestead and Cemetery historic site (#72001069 / #100007234). The 1850 dog-trot log cabin, home of Englishman Thomas Edwards and his Choctaw wife Nancy Hardaway, is the only remaining original structure along the Butterfield Overland Mail Route (1858–1861) through Indian Territory. It served as a meal stop for the first transcontinental stagecoach passengers and, in 1868, became the first Red Oak Post Office.

This presentation will share the organization’s historic preservation journey, including finding historic site owners; creating a non-profit 501(c)(3); connecting with local historic preservation, tourism, and economic development organizations; conducting research; expanding the cabin’s historical significance; and identifying experts to assess the endangered structure.

2:10–3 p.m. “Collaborating to Preserve Oklahoma's Conservation History,” Tanya Finchum, oral history librarian, Oklahoma State University; Chad Williams, Research Division director, Oklahoma Historical Society; Larry Caldwell, Natural Resources Conservation Service retiree and Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society member

In 2018 a collaboration began between the newly formed Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society (OCHS), Oklahoma State University’s Oklahoma Oral History Research Program, and the Oklahoma Historical Society. The goal was to document and preserve Oklahoma’s rich history of conservation. Two initiatives were pursued: digitizing a collection of historical photographs and conducting oral histories. OCHS members located thousands of photographs of conservation work and selected potential interviewees. Presenters will discuss the projects from their perspectives, highlight the themes, and demonstrate how to access the collections.

3:10–4 p.m. “Community Snapshot: Ways to Utilize a Historic Photography Collection,” Taylor Stober, collections specialist; Kimberly Ross, business manager; Bradley Fritch, education specialist; Kathy Kadavy, board president and lead project volunteer; all of Chisholm Trail Museum

Officially donated to the Chisholm Trail Museum in 2018, the Eugene Meacham Collection includes thousands of images and negatives captured between the 1950s and 1990s. The photographs depict every phase of life in communities throughout Kingfisher County and the surrounding area. In 2020, efforts to digitize the collection to make it accessible to the public began through the support of the Oklahoma Historical Records Advisory Board Improving Access Grant Program, with funding support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Over three years after digitization efforts began, staff, interns, and volunteers created a finding aid and scanned nearly 3,000 images. Since the creation of the finding aid, the public has used the collection for personal research and community gatherings such as high school reunions. The Meacham Collection provides an important visual representation of how progress has impacted the local community. This session will be a discussion with museum staff about utilizing a wide-ranging photography collection.