Home |  PublicationsEncyclopedia |  Twine, William Henry

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Taft, Oklahoma, 1914, formerly known as Twine
(22127.2.6, Currie Ballard Collection, OHS).


Lawyer and crusading editor of the Muskogee Cimeter, William Henry Twine, known as "the Black Tiger," was born December 10, 1864, in Red House, Madison County, Kentucky, to Thomas J. and Lizzie Twine. Thomas Twine, a runaway slave who was part African American and part American Indian, worked as a wheelright and constructed wagons. Lizzie, described as being a "straight born African," was a renowned baker. She encouraged sales of her goods by cooking prizes in them, such as rings, for the customers to find. Soon after emancipation the Twine family moved from Kentucky to Xenia, Ohio. Young William Twine received his education in Xenia, and after he graduated, he began a teaching career in Richmond, Indiana. He later moved to Mexia, Texas, to teach. There he married Mittie Almira Richardson in 1889, and their union would produce six sons.

On September 22, 1891, the Twines were among twenty thousand who made the Sac and Fox Land Run into Oklahoma Territory. Twine's 160-acre homestead was near Chandler, where he taught school. He was admitted to the Oklahoma Territory Bar on October 31, 1891, and he organized the territory's first black law firm with partners G. W. F. Sawner and E. I. Saddler. In 1897 the family moved to Guthrie.

After 1894 the work of the Dawes Commission attracted a number of lawyers to Indian Territory, and Twine soon moved his family to the Muskogee area. They joined a new settlement that was growing on land belonging to John Rector, a Creek Freedman. Located one mile east of present Taft, this community was named in honor of Twine.

Soon, however, Twine moved his family to Muskogee and practiced law on North Main Street. Eventually he built a brick office building on South Second Street to house his office and a newspaper, as well as other law offices, a doctor's office, a real estate office, and a tailor shop. Through his law practice and newspaper Twine defended the rights of the community's African Americans. From 1898 to 1904 he edited the Pioneer Paper. His second newspaper, which he published from 1904 to1921, was the Muskogee Cimeter.

Twine became active in the Republican Party, which was the majority party by a small margin in the territorial government. Due to its sponsorship of Jim Crow laws, the Democratic Party was perceived to be the biggest impediment to first-class citizenship for blacks in the Twin Territories. The Republican "Lily-Whites," however, hoped to increase their sway over the government by disassociating their party from its African American supporters. These Republicans often would side with the Democrats in supporting segregation in order to show that they were just as "white" as the Democrats. Blacks of the two territories had to use every available political and legal tool to fight segregation and discrimination. The black community's most powerful weapons in this struggle were their newspapers and the court system.

In 1905 the Sequoyah Convention was held to promote statehood for Indian Territory. In a July 20, 1905, Cimeter article Twine complained that politicians courted the black vote when it was needed, but when blacks wanted to represent themselves, politicians ignored them. No African Americans were selected for the Single Statehood Convention held July 12, 1905, in Oklahoma City.

Twine and W. A. Rentie called blacks to hold a separate convention in Muskogee on August 21, 1905, due to their exclusion from the previous conventions. The Cimeter reported that on December 5, 1906, three hundred black delegates attended a second convention and demanded that the Guthrie Constitutional Convention make no laws that would restrict African Americans' rights and privileges. The Negro Protective League of Oklahoma and Indian Territories called for yet another convention to be held April 20, 1907. During that assembly the delegates resolved to condemn the new state constitution because of its Jim Crow provisions and urged blacks in both territories to oppose it.

Realizing that the "Lily-White" forces had captured the Republican Party, Twine and others opposed statehood. With A. W. G. Sango and other prominent African American leaders he traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. They hoped to convince him to overrule Oklahoma statehood because of the constitution's rejection of civil rights. However, on November 16, 1907, Oklahoma became the forty-sixth state, and the very first measure passed by the legislature, Senate Bill Number One, established segregation on railway cars. As a result, Twine and Rentie, who was president of the Anti-Jim Crow League, filed suit.

These and other civil rights battles involving Twine drew the attention of the so-called white caps, or the Ku Klux Klan. For three years his life was constantly threatened. When the Klan wrote him a letter explaining what they were going to do to him, he was defiant. He printed it and responded that he would not avoid a fight and that he and his six sons would walk to his office at nine o'clock every morning.

After nearly two decades of editing the Muskogee Cimeter, he retired from publishing in 1921 but continued his law practice. William H. Twine died in Muskogee on October 8, 1933.

Jimmie L. White, Jr.

Learn More

Black Dispatch (Oklahoma City), 12 October 1933.

Orben J. Casey, And Justice For All: The Legal Profession In Oklahoma, 1821–1989 (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1989).

Linda C. Gray, "Taft: Town on the Black Frontier," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 66 (Winter 1988–89).

Phillip Mellinger, "Discrimination and Statehood in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 49 (Autumn 1971).

Muskogee Democrat (Indian Territory), 5 June 1905 and 18 August 1905.

Muskogee Times Democrat (Indian Territory), 23 September 1907 and 19 October 1907.

Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Jimmie L. White, Jr., “Twine, William Henry,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=TW006.

Published January 15, 2010

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.