For more than a century and a half, black Americans have achieved major successes after living through dreams, struggles and major disasters from territorial days to what is now Oklahoma.
Their story will be presented more dramatically than ever in an exhibit by the Oklahoma Historical Society, said Bob Blackburn, the society's executive director.
The new exhibit in the Kerr-McGee Gallery at the Oklahoma History Center will highlight February as Black History Month, said Bruce Fisher, administrative program officer for the exhibit.
“My vision for the African-American exhibit has always been to introduce to the public the contributions of African-Americans to the growth and development of our state and to point visitors in the direction to get the rest of the story,” Fisher said.
The exhibit illustrates the story of struggling all-black towns in Oklahoma and the overwhelming disaster of the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921, Fisher said. It also features the lunch counter protests of Clara Luper at Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City starting Aug. 19, 1958; the rise of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, and the success of Roscoe Dunjee as publisher and editor of the Black Dispatch newspaper in Oklahoma City.
Also featured are the Richard Lewis Barber Shop and development of black women's beauty culture; the recent discovery of 29 reels of film produced by the Rev. S.S. Jones, a black minister in Muskogee; and the selection of the first 12 African-Americans to serve in the Oklahoma City Fire Department in 1957 — well before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.
“OHS is so very proud to present these well-documented exhibits of the leaders and accomplishments of African-Americans in Oklahoma,” Blackburn said, “but the celebration of Black History Month is far broader. Several communities are developing interpretive projects to support this goal.”
Boley, one of more than 50 all-black towns formed by the migration of blacks to what is now Oklahoma in the late 19th and 20th centuries, has a small museum, Fisher said. Clearview, also an all-black town, houses the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame, which Fisher helped create.
Chickasha hosts the Loretta V. Jackson African American Historical Society (with Fisher as a founding member), which has restored an African-American one-room school, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Okmulgee has saved its Colored Hospital building and is restoring it through the efforts of the Okmulgee County Multi-Cultural Heritage Association, said Fisher, who also is working on other projects in the planning stage.