I have always been curious how predominately African American towns, post emancipation, developed their sense of identity, pride, and sustainability. I expect my feverish exploring, researching, and communication with individuals from these communities to feed my soul with the resiliency of current and former residents.
When I learned I was interviewing Mrs. Hortense McClinton (King), I read about the town in which she grew up, Boley, OK. A long day at work and sweating it out in the gym kept me from sleep. I pulled out the paper tablet with notes from my pre-screening call:
- Boley, Oklahoma was the largest predominantly black town in the United States.
- Boley was officially opened for settlement in 1903 in Creek Nation, Indian Territory.
- Citizens of Boley built the first Black-owned electric company and the first Black-owned bank in the country.
- Mrs. Mclinton’s father, Mr. Sebron Jones King Sr., once held the position as president.
- Booker T. Washington called it “the finest black town in the world.”
At one point, Oklahoma had to the most prosperous “black towns” in the United States. The 1921 Tulsa race riots, unfortunately, destroyed almost every livelihood for the African American population and wiped out its desirability. Tulsa and other black towns in Oklahoma still struggle to recover.
None of this information is covered in traditional history classes. Why would it be? The dominant culture of this country minimizes the history of oppression, preferring to adhere to a “get over it” attitude.
I recently read an article about a 2012 attempt by the state of Tennessee to remove all references to slavery from textbooks. Lord knows I love the south, but frequently I wish I could shake some sense into the law and policy makers while feeding them an extra-large sandwich of cultural competence!
Okay, now that I got that off of my chest….
Mrs. McClinton exudes the pride and assertiveness she learned growing up in Boley, Oklahoma. I can’t imagine living in a town built by the brick and mortar of those who had endured so much oppression, but found enough optimism to believe everything would be all right.
Mrs. McClinton shared every bit of her Boley pride in 1965, when she became THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN FACULTY MEMBER HIRED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL. Folks, Mrs. McClinton is African American History.