Friday, April 16, 2010

Life in an Oklahoma Town Reflected in Rare Textbooks

In 1938, the oil-gusher town of Drumright was similar to other southern towns. The small black population had been met with hostility over the years and found itself having to contend with many families both white and Indian from whom hostilities were met.  In some places Indians were accorded rights and priveleges as whites so many black families from the the states and others that were native to the region having been Freedmen or their descendants. Freedmen were slaves once held by Five Tribes of Indian Territory.

The families survived nevertheless and in 1938 with the assistance of educator Emma Akin, several textbooks were creatd as teaching aides to the black children in segregated Oklahoma.  Two of these books are in my own personal library and recently while sharing this informaion on another blog more questions arose for me.

Unlike Dick & Jane the fictional characters from whom several generations learned to read, several children in this rural community learned to read from Johnnie Mae and Floyd, and Clara Bell and Harold. And these were real children whose lives were depicted in real photos in the school reader.  Two of the books, Negro Boys & Girls and Gifts are shown here.  The children, some members of their families as well as the staff of the Dunbar and Wheatley Schools were reflected in these books.

What is found inside the books is a close up look at the community of children and adults in this small Oklahoma town. The books are a treasure and having two of the four books in my personal library, I thought I would share some of the images on this blog. The names of many who reflected in the books are as follows:

From Negro Boys & Girls
Teacher & Prinicipal: Gretchen P. Johnson, Primary Teacher, & Joe S. Johnson Principal
Children: Clara Bell Birt, Richard Birt, Clara Ever White, Floyd White, Harold Adams, Betty Jean Brown, Rosa Lee Gallaway, Annabelle Richardson, Geraldine Richardson
Parents: Mrs. James White, Mrs. Grechen P. Johnson, Mrs. Clara Brown, and Mr. C.C. McIntosh

It is not known if the parents of any of these children were Dawes Enrollees, but noting by the surnames there may have been a possibility.

From: Gifts
Dunbar School Staff: Mr. & Mrs. Joe S. Johnson
Jeanes Teacher Supervisor: Miss Willa Green, Creek County Oklahoma
Children: Clara Bell Birt, Harold Adams, floyd White, Johnnie Mae White, Willie C. Taylor twins Betty and Burnett

The books were published in 1938, and the photos were taken by "That Man Stone Company".

Could some of the children whose faces were used in the book, still be living today?
They would be in their late 70s today.  It would be wonderful to find some of them, and to learn more about the experience of these young children and how their lives unfolded in this segregated Oklahoma town.


Garnet said...

I have a copy of Gifts. From what I have been able to find out, this is a rare book. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and I found this book in her belongings after she passed away. I have not found any information about the author.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

The book is extremely rare. Emma Akin worked for the school district in her area and she developed actually 4 school books for black children. I own 3 of the 4. Still looking for 1 more to complete the collection. Where did your mother teach?

Anonymous said...

I have the book "Negro Boys and Girls." I found it when I was teaching in East Saint Louis in the late 1960s, in a storage closet I was cleaning. The principal laughed when I asked if I could keep it, but I consider it one of my most prized possessions.

Joyce S said...

I am a long distance relative of Harold Adams by marriage. He died in 2009. Here is a copy of his obit.

His wife and son and grandsons live in California. I believe that copies of the books will be in the African American Museum in DC. I just learned of the book last year from his wife who is my blood relative.Amazing history.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Wow---amazing to see the obit! That is amazing! Thanks for sharing that tidbit. If you are in touch with them point out the article to them!

Free said...

Clara Bell Birt and Richard John Birt Jr are great aunt and uncle! Please email me!

Anonymous said...

Geraldine Richardson was my papa Leonard's mother she passed away in Kansas I believe in 1996. My papas birthday is coming up and I'm actually trying to find the book with his mother in it. We live in Drumright so he visits the museum often and has slot of the pictures from the book printed for him but I know he would love owning the book.

Anonymous said...

Geraldine and Anna bell are sisters aren't they? I went to school years later at the same school. I always found those books amazing to look at, although we were not taught from them. When the school closed many books were left in the library. I found one of the books and later gave it to Anna Bell, she was the daughter of my neighbor at that time. I also have bought three of the book over the years, they are available, but very expensive now because of being a FIRST EDITION. Amazon have reprints that some one did last year or the year before. I bought the four for my grandson, but the pictures are not as good as the originals. I was disappointed. One of the books was online a few years ago for over $300.00! Ms Akin must have been a very unique woman for her time.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

I understand that the museum in Drumright was going to reprint the books. I have 3 of the 4 and am still looking for the last one for my collection. They are wonderful.

I would love to hear more about your experiences as a student at the school. Email me at: