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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

A scene in Red Bird
(2012.201.B1078.0824, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


Red Bird, located in Wagoner County five miles southeast of Coweta, is one of more than fifty All-Black towns of Oklahoma and one of only thirteen still existing. The Barber and Ruffin families settled in the Red Bird community before 1900, and other families soon followed. The settlement attained a post office in 1902, with A. A. White as the first postmaster. In 1889 E. L. Barber, one of the town's developers, organized the First Baptist Church, the largest church in Red Bird. He also became Red Bird's first justice of the peace and served as an early mayor. The Red Bird Investment Company recruited African American families from all parts of the South to settle in the newly established town. More than six hundred people attended the grand opening at Red Bird, August 10, 1907. By 1920 Red Bird's population was 336.

In 1919 Professor J. F. Cathey, the principal of the school, planned Miller Washington High School, which flourished until 1959 when it closed for lack of students. The high school and Red Bird City Hall are both listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Sharp's Grocery/Masonic Hall and the Red Bird Drugstore, both constructed in 1910, are the two commercial properties listed in the Oklahoma Landmarks Inventory. In 1938 I. W. Lane, a former mayor of Red Bird, successfully challenged a law, similar to the grandfather clause, that made it difficult for African Americans to register to vote in Wagoner County. Like many rural towns in Oklahoma, Red Bird faced devastation and population decline brought about by falling cotton prices and by the onset of the Great Depression. In 1930 the population was 218. It rose and fell over the decades, reaching a high of 411 in 1950 but dropping to 310 in 1960 and 199 in 1980. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the town was steadily rebuilding, although the population stood at only 137 in 2010.

Larry O'Dell


George Carney, "Historic Resources of Oklahoma's All-Black Towns: A Preservation Profile," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 69 (Summer 1991).

Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Journey Toward Hope: A History of Blacks in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982).

Arthur Tolson, The Black Oklahomans: A History, 1541–1972 (New Orleans, La.: Edwards Printing Co., 1972).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Red Bird,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=RE014.

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