Monday, September 4, 2023

Labor Day Festivities in Black Oklahoma 1915


In 1915, the first of several events unfolded in Muskogee Oklahoma when the "Great Agricultural and Industrial Parade" unfolded at the fair grounds. The event occurred during the week of Labor Day from September 6th through 11th at the fair. One of the highlights of the event was a massive parade with dozens of find automobiles and horsemen parading through downtown Muskogee. on 2nd Street which was the heart of the black business community at that time. Each day there were horse races, in addition to automobile racing unfolding. For children there was much to amuse them with carnival rides and plenty of concessions to satisfy the crowds in attendance.

One of the organizers of the event was Herbert A. Clark, an accountant who had come to Oklahoma from his native Ohio, and worked as an accountant in addition to also having worked as a linotype operator, which was the primary macing used to set print. He resided on 3rd Street in Muskogee, only a block away from 2nd Street which for decades was the primary business distict of black Musskogee.

To promote the event it was also noted that much of the event was to have been captured on film, and it appears quite possibly the film maker was Solomon Sir Jones, who produced numerous films of Black Oklahoma. On one of his films an impressive parade was shown with a line of fine automobiles, and others reflecting riders on horseback as part of the parade.

Image from Muskogee Parade Capture by Solomon Sir Jones
Image Captured from Global Image Works

Parade of Automobiles from Solomon Sir Jones Film
Image Captured from Global Image Works

Marching Band in Oklahoma Parade
Source: Global Image Works

Another Glimpse of Oklahoma Parade
Source: Globel Image Works

That first Labor Day holiday event was the first of several state fair events that were hosted in Oklahoima. For the next several years the event to grew to become favorited "Negro State Fairs" in Oklhaoma.  At one time the state governor close the black schools so that black children could attend the "Negro State Fair" that was now celebrated later in the fall.

Source:  Muskogee Cimeter
Chronicling America

For many decades Freedmen from the Five Tribes attended similar events celebrating Freedom and emancipation, and those celebrations were held usually in early August, usually on or around August 4th.  Many Freedmen also attended events in Texas, and this is perhaps where the state fair concept emerged. Almost all of the events consisted of parades, music, competitions and exhibitions for the amusement of onlookers and visitors.

Today Labor Day is usually a family based holiday where individuals spend time with loved ones, placing food on the grill, and enjoying the day. The day usually marks the end of summer with schhols reopening, and that day off has often been the much needed and appreciated change of season day to mark not nolythe calendar change but also for the family and the community to celebrate themselves and their own accomplishments.

So we take this time to acknowledge that we are following a tradition of more than a century ago celebrated by our ancestors. Enjoy this day as our ancestors did. Celebrate your family, and you community as was done in days past.

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