By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
On Tuesday, June 30, the Oklahoma History Center will host the panel discussion, “Black Towns Then … Black Towns Now,” sponsored by the Coltrane Group. The event is free and doors open at 6 p.m., with the discussion beginning at 7 p.m.
This forum, which will be held at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive in Oklahoma City, offers Oklahomans an opportunity to learn about the history of Oklahoma’s All-Black Towns.
The moderator for the evening will be Oklahoma State Representative George Young.
The evening is also the public’s last chance to see the Coltrane Group’s exhibit, “Colored Memories: Historic Colorized Photos of Life in ‘The Crown Jewel.’ The exhibit is comprised of 25 digitally colorized photographs, circa 1920-30, from Boley, Oklahoma, the “crown jewel” of All-Black Towns.
“This event is a great opportunity to hear about the unique development of black towns from the scholarly perspective and also get to hear from people that live and work in these communities today,” said Larry O’Dell, Director of Special Project/Development at OHC.
“Nowhere else, neither in the Deep South nor in the Far West, did so many African American men and women come together to create, occupy, and govern their own communities like they did in Oklahoma,” O’Dell said.
Panelists will include a mixture of All-Black Town government representatives and scholars including authors Hannibal Johnson, Dr. Linda Reese, Dr. Harold Aldridge and Judge Henrietta Hicks.
“Oklahoma’s pioneering black forefathers and foremothers planted the trees under whose shade we now sit,” said Johnson. “The value of their legacy to us—the likes of Boley, Clearview, Langston, Taft, and Tullahassee—is inestimable. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
“Oklahoma’s all-black towns, some still viable, others long gone, represent a significant aspect of the African-American struggle for freedom, justice, and equality,” Johnson added. “This rich history should be resurrected, reclaimed, and remembered.”
Participating civic leaders will include Grayson Mayor Leon Anderson, Langston Trustee Alonzo Peterson, Rentiesville Mayor Mildred Burkhalter, Taft “Citizens for Progress” Chair Dr. Sam Craig, and Tullahasse Mayor Keisha Gaines-Currin.
The speakers will discuss the rise of the All-Black Towns in the 19th century and their history. The panelists also will talk about the opportunities and challenges that these towns face.
Panelists will also share why these villages lost population during the mid-20th century and what is happening in the towns today.
The list of historic All-Black Towns of Oklahoma include Boley, Clearview, Grayson, Langston, Lincoln, Redbird, Rentiesville, Taft, Tatums, Tullahassee, Bernon and Wewoka.
All-Black Towns no longer in existence are Baily, Bookertee, Canadian Colored, Chase, Ferguson, Goibson Station, Liberty, Marshall Town, North Fork, Wellston Colony and Wybark.
The Coltrane Group/History in Progress was founded by Chief Executive Officer André L. Head and his wife, Chief Operating Officer Jessilyn Hall-Head. Their goal is to preserve the heritage and legacy of Oklahoma’s historic All-Black Towns.
Head also has produced and directed a series of documentaries on the All-Black Towns of Oklahoma, another project about which they are extremely passionate.
The Oklahoma History Center is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS), whose mission is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma.
Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains 31 museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state.