LANGSTON — A collection of 29 vintage film reels detailing the lives of blacks living in Oklahoma during the 1920s was the rarest historical artifact Currie Ballard ever owned.
After selling a copy of the collection to the Oklahoma Historical Society, Ballard allowed his most treasured possession to be auctioned. The reels brought $60,000 last week during an auction at Swann Auction Galleries in New York City. Ballard, a historian and assistant secretary to the state Senate, said the films were in a category by themselves. The buyer wished to remain anonymous, but Ballard said the films were purchased by an Ivy League university. "My agent said there was extreme activity,” Ballard said. The six hours of silent films were made by S.S. Jones, a well-known Baptist circuit preacher during the 1920s and ’30s. Among Jones’ subjects were a funeral procession in Hugo, the 1925 graduation ceremony at Langston University, footage of downtown Boley, a spelling contest at Calvary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, children playing outside a country church, a parade in Muskogee; a family’s oil well near Bristow and high school boys and girls basketballs games. The collection also has footage of travels to California, New York, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "This has been the high point of my 30 years collecting African Americano,” Ballard said. The films document the lives of black Oklahomans in the years after the deadly Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 that decimated the city’s Greenwood district. "The films show by 1927 Greenwood had been rebuilt,” Ballard said.