Primary Source: The Blacks In Oklahoma (The New York Times – April 9, 1891)

THE BLACKS IN OKLAHOMA - FLOCKING TO THE TERRITORY IN LARGE NUMBERS (The New York Times – April 9, 1891). Slightly Edited for Classroom Use. 

Topeka, Kan., April 8.- Is Oklahoma really overrun with negroes, and has there been an influx of pauper negroes from the South? So many conflicting answers have been given in response to these two questions that it was impossible to arrive at the truth. The census taken there last Summer was of no use in aiding one to arrive at conclusions, for, while Guthrie enumerated, so it is said, the horses, dogs, and chickens as well as the “regular” population, Oklahoma and Kingfisher failed to count the men, women, and children, while Edmund, El Reno, and Lincoln are still in doubt as to what and who were counted, and Langston was not in existence.

In order to determine the truth, THE TIMES’s representative determined to visit the Territory and see what was to be seen, and to learn from interested persons as much of the truth as they could be prevailed upon to surrender. Those who have never attempted to draw the truth from an Oklahomaite can hardly realize the difficulties that are presented. The Territory was born in falsehood, was baptized in falsehood, and falsehood has been the principal article of diet ever since that fateful 23rd day of April, 1889, when the “sooners” became the leading citizens of a country opened to settlement too late in the year for the planting of crops, and to which the poverty-stricken were invited by speculators and impecunious lawyers who had been permitted to enter beforehand by a pig-headed Administration, which could see nothing good outside the ague-stricken Wabash bottoms of Indiana.

Guthrie

Guthrie, being the headquarters of the Afro-American Colonization Company, has naturally been the objective point of the negroes who have been induced to migrate to Oklahoma. It is impossible to ascertain how many of the black race have arrived in that city, the estimates vary so largely. Those who are opposed to negro settlement declare positively that there are not fifty in the city. Those who favor the movement insist that there are more than two thousand in and about the capital. The latter is probably more nearly the correct figure, as an inspection of the city revealed many black faces, and an examination of many of the little houses in the suburbs showed a number of colored families comfortably situated. That these negroes are not all paupers is shown by their bank deposits, where they have sums ranging from $200 to $1,000. In one bank alone sums aggregating over $15,000 have been deposited by the negro settlers.

Many have gone to that territory with nothing except the rags they wore, but they have never become public charges. They have been cared for by persons of their own race until they were in such condition that they could help themselves and help others. At this time there are eight families crowded into an old (over one year is “old” in that country) storeroom, which aggregates forty-five people. There they sit day after day, waiting until they can be scattered and settled temporarily upon some of their race’s claims. They have their rages and their bundles of household goods and probably $50 would prove a bonanza to the entire outfit. They are fed by their more fortunate brothers, and some way they will be kept alive until Summer, when they will show that they are self-sustaining, for they will work and exist upon almost nothing.

Humiliating as they confession must be and is, the appeals for aid coming from Oklahoma do not come from the negroes, but from the whites. They exemplify the workings of the co-operative plan, as on claims may be found two, four, and sometimes eight families, all working together and often living together, awaiting the time when more lands will be opened for settlement, when the surplus expect to find claims for themselves.

E.P. McCabe & Langston

Twelve miles northeast of Guthrie, on the eastern border of Oklahoma, was found the little “city” of Langston, the inspiration of E.P. McCabe, the only colored State officer Kansas ever had, who is now Treasurer of Guthrie County.

McCabe proposes to establish at Langston a distinctively negro city, and has for months, through colonization societies, been working in the Southern States to secure a population for this new black Mecca. He has secured a number of families and has sold many lots. Some thirty dwelling houses and a small store comprise the nucleus of what the negroes hope to make a great city. There are nearly two hundred persons already there, and not a white face is to be found in the place.

Black carpenters were at work on a dozen new houses in course of erection, while masons, bricklayers, and other mechanics were making preparations for their future work. They have a black doctor, a black preacher, and a black school teacher, the latter presiding in an unpretentious little building already dignified by being called “the academy.” Adjoining the town site eighty-three acres of land have been broken up, and will this year be used as a co-operative garden by the entire colony.

When asked what they were going to live on until something was raised, the general reply was that they “did not come here as paupers,” and that they had brought some money enough with them to live on for some time.

The principal object in establishing this town on the eastern border was to be near the lands of the Iowas, which are expected to be open to settlement before Fall. When these lands are opened Langston will be the supply depot for all of the black race, and there will be repeated the experiment, already a success, that was made in the black-jack country in the northwest part of the Territory, but under much more favorable circumstances, as the new town in situation in a much more productive country.

Waiting For Opportunity

Stopping over night at the residence of a colored man living near Langston, who arrived with the first rush of settlers, the correspondent questioned him as to how he had been enabled to live without crops. He replied: “I came here from Missouri with three teams and some little money, and did not expect to raise any crops for two years. I have had a rough time of it, but am now in shape to live well, as my land is broken and part of my crop already in. I will raise corn and cotton principally, and will have about forty acres of wheat. Many poor people have come here with nothing. How they have lived I hardly know. I have done all I could to help the people of my own race, two families now living on my place down there by the creek,” pointing to a log cabin in a grove of scrubby oak some little distance off.

About Lincoln the land is red and sandy and is covered with a scrubby oak. This was refused by the whites at the time of the opening, and was settled almost entirely by the negroes, who entered later. Their houses are rude log cabins, daubed up with mud, having chimneys on the outside of split sticks crossed, heavily plastered with mud and clay. Around them are little clearings, in which last year was raised such produce as they lived upon, and a small amount of cotton for shipment.

Occasionally a white settler is to be seen, whose appearance and whose manner indicates that he is not quite as well satisfied with his environments as he would be were he to squat in Paradise within easy reach of the noted apple tree after dusk. When questioned regarding his black neighbors, one of these white settlers responded: “They’re good enough, I reckon, but I’m goin’ to git out from here as soon as I kin sell my claim.”

It is just this that is enabling the negroes in the black-jack country not only to hold their own, but to gain more land. The few whites there will be forced to sell their claims for whatever they can get, and the negroes have the money ready to pay over to them whenever the air becomes too thick for them longer to endure the presence of their darker neighbors.

Most of these blacks were originally plantation hands in the South, but have been living in cities since the great exodus of 1879. They now own lands, and while as a rule they were shiftless in the city, living only to be purchased by politicians, on farms they appear to be industrious and thrifty. They are living in a well-watered and wooded country, where cotton, tobacco, corn, and wheat can be raised, and where their children can do the work necessary in a vegetable garden. The Summers are hot and the Winters are not cold. They have centered in settlements where they can assemble in religious or political meetings, at which they see only their own color. They own horses, some of them raw-boned and ancient, but horses nonetheless, and with a cart or wagon almost wholly of home manufacture, costing practically nothing, their families can visit, and go miles and miles in the sun in cool weather and in the shade in hot weather, so the sum of their happiness and bliss has been now completed. 

The opposition to the negroes in the Territory is principally political. Cotton is looked upon as the coming staple for that section, for which negro labor is deemed indispensable. As the cotton fields and tobacco fields increases in number, the demand for negro labor will increase. The result will be that those who own claims will have black land owners added to their numbers, crowding out whites who will not remain among them. The blacks insist that all of their own color shall work, which holds largely in check the lawless of that race, for rowdyism and labor are not good neighbors 

Oklahoma City and Counting

The Hon. David Harvey, delegate to Congress from Oklahoma, said to THE TIMES correspondent that the blacks were decreasing in Oklahoma and that they could not find an abiding place there. The observation made during the trip just finished will not verify his statements.

In his own city – Oklahoma City – according to his statement, there were not over 100 negroes of all ages and kinds. A careful personal count revealed the existence of 157 families, averaging 4 to each family. He asserted that there were not more than four dozen negroes in Guthrie, while, in fact, there are at least 300 in the city. Mr. Harvey was especially positive that the black-jack country could not contain over 1,000 negroes, when the returns of the last election show that Mr. Harvey received at least 1,700 negro votes.

He condemns all allusion to the black strength in that Territory, believing that the importation of blacks only adds to the distress possibly existing there, and yet the blacks are the only ones of a mixed population self-sustaining in a Territory where the majority of the inhabitants so far have been living off of each other, gradually wasting their capital, and will do so until agriculture begins to be productive of results.

The Future Struggle

The cities are owned principally by speculators. They would be creditable to an older country, showing the indomitable energy and faith of their founders, as well as exemplifying their hopes in the future of Oklahoma.

In the meantime, almost every train brings in negroes from the South, who remain. Agents from Georgia and Arkansas have in vain sought to induce some of these blacks to return as laborers. They will not go. They send glowing accounts back to their friends of the new land, and the stream of immigrants constantly increases. So far there has been but little trouble; what the future may bring nobody even pretends to guess. In fact, nobody will not think of it, except the blacks themselves. The latter fondly cherish the idea that they may possibly found here a State in which they will predominate and have the controlling power.

The war of races in Oklahoma is sure to come, but it will not be fought with guns and knives. The weapons will be the plow and the hoe, which will be wielded by each race upon its own lands. It remains to be seen whether the hot sun of Oklahoma will favor the black cuticle of the cotton and tobacco grower or the white skin of the corn and wheat raiser.

Add new comment