How Oklahoma almost became a black state
American Indians, removed from their lands in the eastern United States, had taken up residence in the state, establishing towns and sophisticated societies in the eastern part of what was then known as Oklahoma Territory.
While black people, some held as slaves, accompanied members of the Five Civilized Tribes in their migration to Oklahoma, the largest black influx to Oklahoma didn't happen until after the Civil War.
Oklahoma, with its wide-open spaces, didn't have the racial-bias trappings of the old South, and black freedmen were able to own land and carve out a living in the unsettled parts of Oklahoma.
"It was seen as an economic opportunity to acquire land, and it was seen as a way to get away from the kind of legislation that was being passed in the Deep South,” said Hannibal Johnson, a Tulsa attorney who has written several books about Oklahoma's black history.
"Everybody had a shot then,” he said.
At one time, lawmakers considered making Oklahoma an all-black state.
Federal legislation pushed by the former state auditor of Kansas, E.P. McCabe, asked Congress to designate Oklahoma as a black state. McCabe's push for what was then called "Negro Colonization,” got as far as a congressional committee, and McCabe discussed it with President Benjamin Harrison.
McCabe participated in the Land Run, staked his claim and went on to establish the area near Langston University.
About the same time, Oklahoma societies and land clubs were being formed in places such as St. Louis and parts of Kansas. Promise of all-black towns in Oklahoma brought in people from southern states, in some cases causing labor shortage in states such as South Carolina and Georgia.
According to one newspaper account, black men who were members of the Freedmen's Oklahoma Association were promised 160 acres at no charge.
Black nationalists, similar to the ilk that participated in Liberia colonization efforts, also sought opportunities in Oklahoma, Johnson said.
In a New York Times article from 1890, Oklahoma was called the "New Mecca,” and the next "Beulah Land.”
Black towns thrived in Oklahoma from 1865 to 1920, and more than 50 remained. Boley, in Okfuskee County, was one of the larger black towns. It was home to the first black-chartered bank and other businesses, Johnson said.
As white settlers moved into Oklahoma, however, tensions mounted between whites and blacks.
The article goes on to talk about the increased racial tension between black business owners and members of the Oklahoma Immigration Association, a white group fighting against the movement for a black state, according to the news article.
The heyday of black colonization in Oklahoma ended just after statehood in 1907.
"Unfortunately, at statehood, the first piece of legislation was to segregate rail cars and waiting facilities,” he said.
"That was sort of, in a way, a nail in the coffin of the dreams of Oklahoma as a promised land for African-Americans,” Johnson said.