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The Racial Frontier: Black Towns In Oklahoma

1326 words - 6 pages

Oklahoma, in its earliest organized forms, consisted of over forty independent Native American Nations, though they arrived through a complex process. Native American migration predated European contact but by the mid eighteenth century Native American nations saw their lands being progressively threatened by Euro-American settlement. Migratory push/pull factors such as warfare, famine, and encroachment resulted in movements of native cultures for centuries. However, by the beginning of the nineteenth century Native American migratory patterns began to be forced and regulated on European terms. Treaties, lands sales, and forced relocations onto predetermined reservations changed the way Native Americans would relate to the land and their environment, as well as, intertribal relations. By the 1820s and 1830s most Native American nations had ceded their lands east of the Mississippi River to the newly created United States by treaty or ultimately through the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834 further defined ‘Indian Territory’ as “all that part of the United States west of the Mississippi and not within the states of Missouri, Louisiana, or Arkansas Territory, or any other organized territory.” Over time, this vast reserved land shrank to the limits of Eastern Oklahoma as the insatiable demand for cheap land for white settlers increased.
Unlike the black/white dichotomous experience of the South, Oklahoma became a foreshadowing example of the diversity of the American West. While the South experienced a period of multiracialism before removal, through segregation, the South never experienced the cultural diversity seen in Oklahoma. Oklahoma, both politically and demographically, would develop at the crossroads of Indian policy, Western Expansion, and Emancipation. This crossroads of North American history is the setting by which the life cycle of Oklahoma’s black towns must be contextualized. The story of the towns, and their residents, must be viewed within, and distinct from, these different storylines.
Previous explanations of the establishment and development of black towns focused on explaining the phenomenon through the lens of racial utopianism and/or economic boosterism. The idea of black utopianism developed out of the study of the black Exodus from the Deep South following the Civil War. Early scholars studying black towns focused exclusively on the role of race and racial tension to explain these settlement patterns. Mozell C. Hill’s 1946 essay, “The All-Negro Communities of Oklahoma,” argued frontier settlement resulted from one of three patterns: (1) boom towns in which chance played a large role in their success and failure, (2) land speculation in which individual or group investors catalyzed rapid growth, or (3) utopian towns created by those who desired an escape from outside hostile forces. Hill suggests black towns arose because of racial tension and a desire on the part of...

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