Black History is Oklahoma History

This page is a work in progress, created to share resources about the Black experience in Oklahoma.

As an educational organization and a dedicated community partner, the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) has long believed that one important step toward ending racism and injustice is a better understanding of our shared history. By providing resources that give context for the Black experience in Oklahoma, we hope to spark civil discourse and open dialogue about the role of race in the history of our state. While these conversations about our past may not be comfortable, they are necessary to understand where we have been and how we can best move forward together.

Since 1893, the Oklahoma Historical Society has collected and shared the story of Oklahoma. In the 1980s, the OHS began a concerted effort to engage with Oklahoma’s Black community—to listen to their stories and share their experiences. While we have made both mistakes and significant strides, we will continue to do better and do more. As new voices call for change, the OHS stands committed to our mission to collect, preserve, and share the history and culture of all Oklahomans. Learn more and browse free resources related to the Black experience in Oklahoma below.

Upcoming Events

Historic images of African American baseball players and the cover of LIFE magazine featuring Jackie Robinson

Discover Greatness: An Illustrated History of the Negro Leagues exhibit
February 6 through April 21

The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid will share the history of baseball Negro Leagues with an exhibit opening February 6. It is a truly American story, full of aspiration, injustice, triumph, and complexity.

From the beginning, the leagues had their roots in racism, the so-called “gentleman’s agreement” that effectively shut Black ballplayers out of big league competition for the first half of the 20th century.

The Negro Leagues remained a robust institution for Black players until one of their own, the Kansas City Monarchs’ Jackie Robinson, broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Three months later, former Newark Eagles star Larry Doby integrated MLB’s American League. Find out more.

The Civil War in Indian Territory

The Battle of Honey Springs (2021) tells the story of the historic 1863 battle that was a turning point for the Civil War in Indian Territory. The approximately 9,000 troops involved included Native Americans, veteran Texas regiments, and the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, which was the first African American regiment in the Union army.

Walk the historic battlefield and view artifacts that tell the story of this momentous event at Honey Springs Battlefield, located east of US Highway 69 between Oktaha and Rentiesville. Learn more about Honey Springs Battlefield.


Freedmen and the Territorial Era

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Researching Freedmen History
View images, learn about Dawes Rolls, and find sources for Freedmen records on our Freedmen History page.



“From Tulsa to Beyond: African American Genealogy in the Indian Territory and Oklahoma,” Nicka Smith
Discover how to research the lives of your ancestors using tribal records (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole), federal records, newspapers, college/university collections, historical society records, and more!

The Chronicles of Oklahoma
“‘The Golden Days’: Taylor and Mary Ealy, Citizenship, and the Freedmen of Chickasaw Indian Territory, 1874–77,” by Ellen Cain

“Reading Prestatehood Muskogee: Racial-Political Discourse in American Indian, African American, and White Newspapers, 1905–07,” by Angela M. Person

“West Edwards Days: African Americans in Territorial Edmond,” by Christopher P. Lehman

Podcast
“Slavery in Indian Territory,” BrainBox podcast, Oklahoma Humanities

“The Misremembered ‘Uncle’ Wallace and ‘Aunt’ Minerva,” Shelby Ward (2021)
“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. While their talent has not been forgotten, the nature of their relationship has been misremembered. Hear their story in this presentation.


“Finding Isaac Rogers,” Nicka Sewell-Smith (2021)
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? Find out in this presentation.


“The Elder Dunjee: Examination of the Life and Influence of John William Dunjee in Early Oklahoma”, Edith Ritt-Coulter (2022)
This session seeks to extend the story of Roscoe Dunjee by acknowledging the legacy of his father, John William Dunjee. The elder Dunjee contributed to the establishment of African American churches throughout Oklahoma and Indian Territories. He instilled in his children a sense of political consciences rooted in the ideology of racial uplift that impacted Oklahoma’s Black communities and communities throughout the United States.


Discover How Black Oklahomans Shaped Literature, Music, and Culture

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

“Genie Boy Goes to Hollywood,“ Cindy Donovan Wallis and Gwen Walker
Gene “Genie Boy” Smith was raised in Stringtown, Oklahoma. He later moved to California 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. Before his death in 2018, Genie Boy shared his perspective, unforgettable memories, and photos with the Atoka Museum.

Sports History

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Interview with Bobby Walton (2016)
Bobby Walton discusses breaking barriers in his attempt to be certified the first African American to register and participate as a player in the Oklahoma American Legion Baseball Tournament in 1954–55 in Enid, Oklahoma.

Black Writers

Learn about some of Oklahoma’s celebrated Black authors in the online exhibit Oklahoma Writers: A Literary Tableau.



All-Black Towns and More


All-Black Towns of Oklahoma: Remembering Safe Havens

Join the State Historic Preservation Office on a journey through Oklahoma's All-Black Towns, where we will highlight the creativity, entrepreneurial spirits, and tenacity that helped build some of these Black safe havens.

Thematic Surveys

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

View map

“Oklahoma Bound,” the films of Reverend S. S. Jones
Watch selections from silent films created by Reverend S. S. Jones, who came to Oklahoma Territory in 1889. Scenes of traditionally All-Black towns of Oklahoma include Taft, Clearview, Melvin, and Boley in the 1920s.

Civil Rights in Oklahoma


Presented by the Oklahoma Historical Society, this documentary shares the history of sit-ins in Oklahoma City during the Civil Rights Movement. Through historic images and new interviews with sit-in participants, producers Joyce Jackson and Bruce Fisher tell the powerful story of this movement.

People of Oklahoma: Civil Rights Movement Across Oklahoma
The civil rights revolution of the 1950s and the 1960s included brave individuals who challenged a system of injustice and inequality. This documentary includes reflections of some who participated in sit-ins across Oklahoma, in addition to the comments by community leaders, such as Marilyn Luper Hildreth, Joyce Henderson, Dr. Gloria Griffin, Christina Beatty, Senator George E. Young, Loria Phillips, Espaniola Bowen, J. C. Watts, Jabee Williams, J. D. Baker, and others who are in charge of projects that preserve the legacy of the movement.


“The Good Fight,” Crossroads online publication

This issue presents an intimate look back at the struggle for civil rights in Oklahoma City.

Find more about Civil Rights Leaders and History
in The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

The Chronicles of Oklahoma
“An Unflinching Call for Freedom: Clara Luper’s Pedagogy at the Center of Sit-Ins,” by Rachel E. Watson

“Fitting In and Sitting In: Phillip Henry Porter and Memories of Integration Efforts in Enid, 1955–58,” by Aaron Preston

“Thurgood Marshall’s “Broom Closet”: The Structure of Segregation in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents,” by Eric Lomazoff and Bailie Gregory

“Unforgotten Trailblazer: Nancy O. Randolph Davis,” by Gloria J. Pollard

Historic Places


“An Oklahoma Story of Place: Voices of Preservation” – Summit, Oklahoma
This video features interviews with descendants of Reverend L. W. Thomas, founder of the town of Summit, Oklahoma (Muskogee County). Summit was one of more than fifty All-Black towns established in present-day Oklahoma, and one of only thirteen still in existence today. The many businesses in Summit before World War II included a cotton gin, filling station, grocery, and garage.


“An Oklahoma Story of Place: Voices of Preservation” – Threatt Filling Station
This video features Reverend Allen Threatt III discussing the Threatt Filling Station, which was built in 1915. Owned and operated by his family, this service station was located along Route 66 near Luther, Oklahoma, and it served African American travelers and locals. This business is one that would typically be included in “The Travelers’ Green Book.”

Historical Markers
View historical markers celebrating ethnic diversity

National Register of Historic Places

Exhibits

Traveling Exhibits
Bring a traveling exhibit to your school, library, church, or local community center.



Visit Realizing the Dream, an exhibit about the Black experience in Oklahoma, at the Oklahoma History Center.

Tourism and Recreation

Explore events, landmarks, attractions, and more from the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
www.travelok.com/long-road-to-liberty

View the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s Long Road to Liberty: Oklahoma’s African American History and Culture on Issuu.