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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Tatums's Headstart Center, 1983
(2012.201.B1275.0777, by P. Howell, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


Lee Tatum and his wife, Mary, applied for a post office designation in 1895, beginning the town of Tatums in Indian Territory. Located in Carter County four miles northeast of Ratliff City, the town is one of more than fifty All-Black towns of Oklahoma and one of only thirteen still existing. In addition to running the post office, the Tatums operated a small grocery in one corner of their house. Henry Taylor owned the community's largest home and offered overnight accommodations for travelers. In addition to his postal duties, Lee Tatum was appointed a U.S. marshal. Tatums residents soon established a church and school.

A hotel was built in 1899, a blacksmith shop in 1900, a cotton gin and sawmill in 1910, and a motor garage in 1918. Oil wells were drilled in the area in the 1920s, bringing wealth to several of Tatums's farmers and landowners. The Julius Rosenwald Fund helped build a brick school in 1925–26, and the WPA built another in 1936. Tatums's Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 94001519), was completed in 1919. In 1927 Norman Studios filmed a silent movie, Black Gold, in Tatums and enlisted Marshal L. B. Tatums to play a role. Although a copy of the film cannot be found and probably no longer exists, the script and camera are preserved at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in California. Like most rural towns, Tatums experienced the crippling effects of the Great Depression, and many residents migrated to urban areas. The first federal census, made in 1970, found that Tatums had 133 residents, a number that grew to 281 in 1980. At the end of the twentieth century the population stood at 172, and the town awaited economic revival. The 2010 census counted 151 residents. In April 2020 the census counted 115 residents.

Larry O'Dell


George O. 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, 1980).

Arthur Tolson, The Black Oklahomans: A History, 1541–1972 (New Orleans, La.: Edwards Print Co., 1974).

Jewell Carter Varner, "A History of the Tatums Community" (M.A. thesis, Kansas State Teachers College, 1950).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Tatums,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=TA014.

Published January 15, 2010
Last updated December 12, 2023

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