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Segregation in Oklahoma


Blacks in Oklahoma
Blacks in Oklahoma

As in neighboring states, black Oklahomans were subject to discriminatory laws and practices. The 1907 constitution explicitly defined as black all persons with any degree of African ancestry, and it also prohibited interracial schooling at all levels. Eventually everything from public schools to hospitals, housing, cemeteries, and even pay-telephone booths were formally segregated. Many communities went further by forbidding blacks within their borders, particularly after sundown. Nevertheless, black Oklahomans maintained separate, strong communities. By the 1930s the state had more than 20 all-black towns (the highest number of any state in the nation), many of which forbade whites within their borders. In urban centers, blacks maintained their own residential areas, churches, schools, and businesses.

The most famous were “Deep Deuce” along Oklahoma City’s Second Street and Tulsa’s Greenwood, once known as the “Negro Wall Street of America.” Blacks themselves demonstrated their opposition to the first segregationist transportation laws by burning the Midland Valley Railroad Station at Taft, an all-black town near Muskogee. Violence, however, more often came from the white community. Hoping to prevent a black prisoner from being lynched (hanged without a trial), Tulsa’s black community rallied at the county courthouse to protect him on May 31, 1921. Three days of rioting and burning followed, leaving blocks of black-owned property in ruin, including Tulsa’s Greenwood area.

Deaths were in the hundreds, all but a few of which were black. No one had an exact number, since rioters burned the bodies, buried them in unmarked graves, or threw them into the Arkansas River.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Oklahoma blacks filed lawsuits against the racial segregation of students in public schools. These Oklahoma cases were precursors for the Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954, which declared racially segregated schooling unconstitutional. "Oklahoma" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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