February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the rich heritage of African Americans in this nation. Each year your children probably learn the standard Black history lessons: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King at school. They may learn about national events that occurred in Selma, Birmingham, or the March on Washington.
But, what about right here in Oklahoma? Having moved to Oklahoma from Indiana a few years ago, we were not aware of the richness of Oklahoma’s African American history until this past summer when we did some exploring on our own.
Make history come alive.
During this past summer, I enlisted the help of my history-buff husband and also, a friend who grew up in Oklahoma threw in some ideas. We developed a family field trip itinerary that would allow our kids to experience history first-hand, and also hopefully encourage them to dig deeper into the history of African Americans in Oklahoma.
Each child was given a list of facts to research about each town we would visit: founding date, previous and current population and demographics, businesses/economy, schools, and one fact that they found unique or interesting.
In our research, we learned that between 1865-1920 Oklahoma had over 50 All-Black towns and settlements, more than any other state. Of those, today, only 13 remain. For our field trip, we narrowed the list down to towns that we could reach round-trip on one tank of gas. Below is a summary of the towns we visited, as well as those we did not reach. There are several links that will help you introduce Oklahoma connections to Black History Month to your kiddos, as well.
Boley: The largest of the 50 or so All-Black towns was Boley. It was founded in 1903, and by 1911, had a population of over four thousand people. That population has now dwindled to a little over 1,000. This rural town had many businesses and even two colleges. It was described as “the most enterprising, and in many ways, the most interesting of the Negro towns in the United States” by Booker T. Washington.
The oldest African-American rodeo in the nation is still held in Boley every year during Memorial Day weekend. The kids were surprised by how little activity there was in the town while we visited. They were fascinated by how old the buildings were and saddened by how many were boarded up. You can schedule a group tour of the Boley Historic District, which is listed as a National Historic Landmark, by calling (918) 667-3341.
IXL (or I.X.L): A tiny town with a current population of around 50 residents. It was so small that we actually passed it before realizing it, and turned back around. One interesting fact my kids found was that in the late 1920s, the town received a grant to build a segregated schoolhouse, and the residents of the town contributed their own money to establish the school.
Clearview: Clearview was founded in 1903, and at one point was home to over 600 residents. That number is now just under 50. When it was founded, the residents built a school and two churches to support the community.
“I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life and I never knew about that.”
Those were words written by several friends in response to a Facebook post I had shared last year about the Tulsa Race Massacre on the 98th anniversary of that tragic and painful part of Oklahoma history. While not designated as a historic black town, the Greenwood “Black Wall Street” district of Tulsa, OK is an important part of the African American history of Oklahoma, and definitely worth the visit.