As part of filming for the Struggle Home web/film project about Oklahoma's all-black towns, I went to Clearview, Lima, Tullahassee, Summit and Rentiesville last week. I was based in Muskogee, which has its own historical black neighborhoods. For years, Muskogee was also a meeting/market place, and a center for nursing homes and clinics for the surrounding black towns.
Rentiesville lives on with its Down Home Blues Club and the Honey Springs Battle Field, as well as a small but active population, proud of its heritage and the extremely esteemed to have come out of the town, including the late blues legend D.C. Minner and one of America's best historians, John Hope Franklin, who before it was fashionable went into much deeper layers of history than his contemporaries.
The towns, even as some old porches are crumbling, and fire trucks are weeded in, keep surviving, and thrived on agriculture and natural resources for many years, as the descendants of freed slaves, who had fled the South, built strong communities alongside Native Americans and their own former slaves, with schools which produced doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, intellectuals and artists.
In Lima, I talked to former mayor James Hubbard (pictured above) about the barely standing Rosenwald school (pictured below). The school, which was part of a Sears-funded initiative to help with the education of African-Americans, now needs saving.
There was once an effort to make Oklahoma an all-black state, but instead a Jim Crow law was the first law which was passed after statehood in 1907. Hubbard says growing up he heard stories of black farmers being killed when they ventured too far away from their normal circuits trying to sell cotton.