Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Forgotten Days of Early Oklahoma - The Negro State Fair

From the years before statehood till the mid 1900s there were a number of events that were frequently attended by the Oklahoma African American community.  For many decades, families from the Freedmen communities of Indian Territory and later Oklahoma, celebrated Freedom and emancipation in early August. Another event was the Negro State Fair. In the early 1900s after statehood, Jim Crow was made legal when Senate Bill #1 was passed. But the African American community still lived and worked within those limitations to work and find time also to celebrate life.  One such even was the Negro State Fair. By 1915 such events occurred frequently.  But prior to that, many blacks from the new state of Oklahoma looked to Texas for inspiration for such fairs. A decade earlier a Negro state fair was a much anticipated event in Bonham Texas as well, and many families from Oklahoma are said to have frequented those four day events as well.
The events consisted of festivals, parades, music and rodeo expositions for the amusement of the spectators and visitors.

In 1920, the Tulsa Star, a black newspaper from Tulsa Oklahoma widely advertised the Oklahoma based Negro State fair. The sponsor of the event was J. Coody Johnson, the well known attorney and advocate for Seminole Freedmen. 
J. Coody Johnson
Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

A resident of Wewoka, the event was held on Johnson's property along the state highway outside of the city limits. As this was a four day event, the state superintendent of education allowed the "colored" schools to be closed so that school children could also participate in this event.

Tulsa Star October 9, 1920

Events for this fair consisted of exhibitions, rodeo events and a unique treat----airplane rides for those who wished to experience flight!

Portion of article about Negro State Fair
Source: Tulsa Star October 9, 1920 Page 2

It should be noted that the 1920 event was not the first such fair. Several years prior to Coody Johnson's sponsored fair there were similar events held in Muskogee in 1915 and 1917.

As indicated on the flyer for the Muskogee event, a parade through Muskogee was planned. In a rare piece of film footage depicting Oklahoma black life in the 20th century, one can get a glimpse of the Muskogee parade.

Film Footage Showing Glimpse of Muskogee Parade

Although times have changed over the past century, that such events no longer have to be racially segregated, one should still take note of the efforts when people who were legally sanctioned from many public events, struggled to entertain each other within those boundaries established by law. They were and still are those who resisted, remained and thrived.


Nancy said...

Hold on...the first bill passed in our state senate was to make Jim Crow legal? That's terrible.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Yes, Senate Bill #1 sometimes known as the coach bill--requiring separate (and unequal) coaches to be used on trains and in public places sailed through the Oklahoma Legislature right away.

See link at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/S/SE017.html

Anonymous said...

My mother (born 1943) recalls seeing segregated signs when traveling through the Southern US as a child.

stevie six said...

Approved on December 18, 1907, Senate Bill One, also known as the coach law and to most as the state's first Jim Crow law, easily sailed through Oklahoma's first legislature. The bill provided that "every railway company, urban or suburban car company, street car or interurban car or railway company . . . shall provide separate coaches or compartments as hereinafter provided for the accommodation of the white and negro races, which separate coaches or cars shall be equal in all points of comfort and convenience." Another section of the legislation similarly stated that each railroad depot must have separate, adequately signed waiting rooms for each race. The penalty for disobeying ranged from one hundred to one thousand dollars for any company failing to provide separate facilities and from five to twenty-five dollars for any individual who, after being warned by the conductor, occupied any coach or compartment (including waiting rooms) not designated for his/her race. The bill authorized railroad officials to refuse service or eject violators. All fines were to go to the common school fund.