BLACK TOWNS IN THE GULF COAST REGION
Gulf Coast Towns
Barrett (Harris County)
Dinsmore – “Dinsmore is on Farm Road 1301 and the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway two miles east of Wharton in Wharton County. It was established in John Dinsmore’s quarter league by a black man, E. W. Roberts, for African Americans. qv The plat was recorded in 1913, and the town was named Roberts; the residents, however, called the place Dinsmore, and the name Roberts appears only on the plats. The original plat had thirty-eight blocks, with nine avenues running east to west and six streets running north to south. One lot was designated for a school, with a park across the street. The streets and avenues had the names of local citizens. The lots were small but cheap, and gave descendants of former slaves, now working as tenant farmers, sharecroppers, or hired agricultural workers, a place to build and own their own homes. The site was near Burr, which had the largest black population in the county because the large plantations along the Caney Creek had been in that area.
After the railroad was built from Wharton to Van Vleck in 1900, white farmers moved in. E. W. Roberts, who owned and operated a brick two-story mercantile store on the east side of the courthouse square in Wharton, began selling lots in 1914. He eventually declared bankruptcy, sold all of his Wharton County holdings, and moved to Houston. A revised plat was recorded in 1920 that reduced the townsite to three avenues, four streets, and ten blocks containing twelve lots each. The school and park never materialized. In the early 1990s Dinsmore comprised fifty houses, an estimated 250 residents, and one business.”
Wharton County Historical Commission, Wharton County Pictorial History: 1846-1946, Our First 100 Years (Austin: Eakin Press, 1993).
Houston Freedmen’s Towns: There were several Freedman settlements established in the location of present-day Houston. At the time of settlement, these places were located outside of Houston and as Houston expanded, these areas were incorporated. These settlements included the Fourth and Fifth Ward, and Freedmanís Town:Fifth Ward
Freedmanís Town: “Historical and cultural legacies bounded by Gennessee, West Dallas, Arthur and West Gray Streets. This 40 block residential area represents the first settlement of the Cityís freed blacks. The district contains many examples of shotgun houses. Rutherford B. Yates House Historical and cultural legacies, 1314 Andrews in Freedmanís Town. The building will house a museum that will focus on the work of African-American printers. RTHL is designated a recorded Texas Historic Landmark.Antioch Missionary Baptist Church – Historical and cultural legacies, 313 Robin Street. Located in historic Freedmanís Town, this church was organized in 1866 and is the oldest Black Baptist congregation in Houston. Independence Heights Historical and cultural legacies bounded by North Yale, East 34th and I-610. This community was established about 1908 as middle-class African-American families began moving into the North Houston area. The first African-American Community to be incorporated in Texas, Independence Heights operated as a city from 1915 until annexation by the City of Houston. SM at 7818 N. Main, NR.”
Freedmanís Town Historic District. Texas Historical Subject Marker. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Hufsmith (Harris County)KendletonMission Valley (Medina County)
“DINSMORE, TX.” The Handbook of Texas Online. [Accessed Fri Jul 4 7:51:06 US/Central 2003 ]. by Merle R. Hudgins.
Piney Woods Towns:
Beaver Dam – “Beaver Dam is a small, predominantly black community fourteen miles northwest of DeKalb in northeastern Bowie County. The town, named for a large beaver dam on a nearby creek, has never had a post office. In 1933 it reported one rated business and a population of ten. In the 1940s and 1950s the reported population was twenty-five. In 1984 Beaver Dam comprised a church, a cemetery, and a few scattered houses.”
J. J. Scheffelin, Bowie County Basic Background Book.Cuney – “Cuney is at the junction of U.S. Highway 175 and Farm Road 855, twenty-two miles northwest of Rusk in northwestern Cherokee County. The site was first settled by freed slaves just after the Civil War qv and was known for a time as Andy, after Andrew Bragg, a former slave and the first black landowner in the area. A community, however, did not grow up until around 1902, when the settlement became a flag stop on the newly built Texas and New Orleans Railroad. Around 1914 H. L. Price, the cashier at the Farmers and Citizens Savings Bank in Palestine, and several other local investors formed a development company and platted a townsite. They named the town Cuney in honor of Price’s son, Cuney Price, who in turn had been named for Norris Wright Cuney, qv a prominent black politician and head of the Republican party qv in Texas. A Cuney post office was authorized in 1917, and by the early 1920s the town had two general stores, a blacksmith shop, several cotton gins, an eleven-grade school, a drugstore, and a hotel. In 1929, when U.S. Highway 175 was paved, most of the town’s businesses moved to the highway, a mile north of the railroad. The town’s population reached 100 in 1929 but declined during the early 1930s; in 1936 only twenty-five residents and six businesses were reported. Afterward the population grew steadily, from seventy-five in 1952 to 170 in 1990. When Cuney was incorporated in November 1983 it became the first incorporated black community in Cherokee County. A number of businesses closed after World War II, qv but in the late 1980s the town still sustained a post office, two grocery stores, an arts and crafts shop, a beauty shop, a garage, and a sawmill.”
Cherokee County History (Jacksonville, Texas: Cherokee County Historical Commission, 1986).
Hattie Joplin Roach, A History of Cherokee County (Dallas: Southwest, 1934).
Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin.
Easton – “Easton is on Farm Road 2906 ten miles southeast of Longview in extreme southeastern Gregg County and northeastern Rusk County. Most of the site, first known as Walling’s Ferry and then as Camden, is near a bluff on the south bank of the Sabine River. In 1885 the Texas, Sabine Valley and Northwestern Railway built a line through the area, and by the late 1880s a large sawmill was in operation there. In 1890 Easton reported the Buchanan and Company general store, a lumber and shingle plant, and a population of seventy-five. The community declined, and most of the remaining white inhabitants moved to Longview or other towns. By 1940 Easton was a predominantly black community with one business and a population of fifty. It revived in the 1940s with the development of oilfields in the area. In March 1949 a post office was again established, after which the town soon incorporated. The incorporated area straddled the Gregg-Rusk county line. Easton had 297 residents in 1970 and 401 in 1990.”
“[Major Kennedy] bought whole sections [of Texas land] at a time since land was inexpensive. By 1930, when the East Texas oil boom hit, he had acquired substantial land and livestock. The oil discovered on his land brought him greater wealth, and he joined with other East Texas blacks to form the Tiger Oil and Gas Company. Kennedy became a leader among African Americans because of his financial power and built the all-black town of Easton, on the border of Gregg and Rusk counties. He owned a mercantile store, a garment factory, a sawmill, a number of rent houses, and most of the land in the town by the time of his death. He supported the Pirtle Baptist Church in Easton and donated land for its cemetery.He also made generous contributions to Butler College, the Progressive Voters’ League, the YMCA, and various civil rights causes. He also constructed churches and schools in East Texas, financed the studies of a number of students, and donated fifty acres of land to the Boy Scouts of America for Camp Kennedy, which included a lake with swimming and fishing facilities. He and Mary had ten children. Kennedy died on July 12, 1952.”
South Texas Plains
South Texas Plains Towns:
Cologne (Goliad County): “Cologne, on U.S. Highway 59 near the Victoria county line in eastern Goliad County, was established by two former slaves, Jim Smith and George Washington, as a place where freedmen could settle. Smith and Washington, who operated a freighting and passenger business from Indianola westward, bought 500 acres at the site on Perdido Creek. In 1870 the first families began moving into the settlement, initially called the Colony and later Perdido Community. The name Centerville was adopted after Jim Hall noted that the site was halfway between Goliad and Victoria. Until after the railroad was built the town excluded all white settlers.
In 1889 the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway established a depot at Centerville but named the stop Ira Station, the name by which the community was known for about ten years. Hall exchanged land for the depot for a lifetime job as station agent and the guarantee that the railroad would not abandon the station. The town became a cattle slaughtering and shipping center, reportedly with a hog rendering plant as well. In 1898 a post office was established under the name of Cologne through the efforts of William Young. The new name was adopted because the abattoirs made the community “such a sweet-smelling place.” A Methodist church was established in 1880, then a Baptist, though both were destroyed in the 1930s. The Methodist church was rebuilt, but the Baptists began commuting to nearby Fannin. A one-room school served as the recreational center, and a permanent racetrack and a baseball team provided sport. In 1914 about thirty-five people were living in Cologne. The post office was discontinued in 1925, and the population declined to twenty-five by 1940. Thirty-five residents were recorded from 1970 through 1986. The railroad station and cattle pens no longer exist, though part of the original town is now the location of a large power plant. The town was mentioned in John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 speech in Cologne, Germany, where the president said, “I bring you greetings from the cities of America, including the citizens of Cologne, Minnesota, Cologne, New Jersey, and even Cologne, Texas.” In 1990 the population was eighty-five.”
Goliad County Historical Commission, The History and Heritage of Goliad County , ed. Jakie L. Pruett and Everett B. Cole (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983).
Frank X. Tolbert, “Tolbert’s Texas” Scrapbook, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.
“Cologne, TX” The Handbook of Texas Online – [Accessed Fri Jul 4 6:15:15 US/Central 2003 ]. by Craig H. Roell
Effie Kaye Adams, Tall Black Texans: Men of Courage (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt, 1972).
Houston Chronicle Magazine, July 13, 1952.
“BEAVER DAM, TX.” The Handbook of Texas Online. [Accessed Fri Jul 4 6:45:15 US/Central 2003 ]. by Cecil Harper, Jr.
“CUNEY, TX.” The Handbook of Texas Online. [Accessed Fri Jul 4 US/Central 2003 ]. by Christopher Long
“Major Kennedy” The Handbook of Texas Online. [Accessed Fri Jul 4 6:15:15 US/Central 2003 ]. by Nolan Thompson
“EASTON, TX.” The Handbook of Texas Online. [Accessed Fri Jul 4 6:18:01 US/Central 2003 ]. by Norman W. Black
Oklahoma was once considered as the site of an all-Black state. Senator Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire introduced a bill in favor of the proposal.
In 1879, Blacks migrated in large numbers from the South to the Kansas and other parts of the Midwest.
Many Blacks prospered in Oklahoma as members of the various Native American tribes.
Black freedmen in Oklahoma were known as “Natives,” while Black immigrants from other areas, particularly the South, were called “Watchina” or “State Negroes.”
Hannibal C. Carter helped establish the Freedmen’s Oklahoma Immigration Association in Chicago in 1881.
Some of the “Sooners” who came to Oklahoma in the great land run of 1889 were Black.
Historically, Oklahoma boasts more all-Black towns than any other state.Edwin P. McCabe: Father of the All-Black Town MovementMcCabe was for a time the highest-ranking Black elected state official in Kansas, serving two terms as state auditor (1882 -1886).
McCabe was a prominent, popular member of the Republican Party in both Kansas and Oklahoma.
McCabe lived for a time in Nicodemus, Kansas, one of the early and prominent all-Black towns.
Two Black ministers, William Smith and Thomas Harris, conceived the idea of creating an all-black town in Nicodemus, Kansas.
McCabe came to Oklahoma in 1889 at the time of the great land run.
McCabe founded Langston, Oklahoma and the Langston City Herald newspaper, a propaganda vehicle to encourage migration to the town.
In 1890, McCabe visited with President Benjamin Harrison, intent on convincing him of the wisdom of creating an all-Black state in Oklahoma.
When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the first official legislative act was the passage of rigid “Jim Crow” laws. McCabe filed a lawsuit against such measures.
McCabe died a pauper in Chicago on February 23, 1920.
McCabe is buried in Topeka, Kansas.
Highlights of the All-Black Towns in Oklahoma
Booker T. Washington visited Boley, Oklahoma, an all-Black town, in 1908.
Booker T. Washington called Boley, Oklahoma “[t]he most enterprising, and in many ways the most interesting of the Negro towns in the U.S.”
Members of the gang of Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd were killed after robbing the Boley bank and killing its president in 1932.
Taft, Oklahoma, originally called “Twine, Indian Territory,” changed its name in 1908 in honor of President William H. Taft.
Clearview, Oklahoma was the site of a vibrant “Back to Africa” movement led by an African known as “Chief Sam” in 1913.
Langston, Oklahoma is the site of the farthest west of all the Black colleges.
Rentiesville, Oklahoma is the original home of historian Dr. John Hope Franklin.
Rentiesville, Oklahoma is the home of guitarist, singer, and noted bluesman D. C. Minner.
Rentiesville, Oklahoma is the site of a pivotal Civil War conflict, “The Battle of Honey Springs,” also referred to as the “Gettysburg of the West.”
The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment played a key role in the victory of the Federals over the Confederate troops in the Battle of Honey Springs.
Lelia Foley-Davis, elected mayor of Taft in 1973, became the first Black female mayor in America.
Red Bird, Oklahoma reportedly got its name from the fascination of its founder, E. L. Barber, with the number of red birds in the area.
The Future of the All-Black Towns
Cultural tourism is on the rise. The remaining all-black towns are becoming tourist destinations. Both Muskogee Convention & Tourism and Rudisill North Regional Library in Tulsa conduct all-Black Town tours periodically. The Rudisill tour is set for Saturday, June 12, 2004. Contact Kimberly Johnson at Rudisill for details.
The Oklahoma Historical Society sponsored the Black Town Exhibit, a salute to the all-Black towns.
The Black Town Exhibit was housed for a time in the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee.
The Oklahoma Historical Society History Center and Museum, once completed, will feature an African-American Gallery that will tell the story of the all-Black towns.
One of the keys to the future success of the remaining all-Black towns will be the retention of youth and young adults.
Historic All-Black Towns in OK
Between 1865 and 1915, approximately 50 years after the Civil War, there were at least 60 Black Towns settled in the Nation. With more than 20, Oklahoma led all other states. With help from the Five Civilized Tribes, Freedmen from the South settled the all Black Towns of Oklahoma. Most of these towns were established by African-Americans for African-Americans on land that was formerly held by one of the Five Civilized Tribes.
View a map of the towns: http://www.tulsalibrary.com/aarc/towns/map.htm
Historic All Black Towns of Oklahoma:
All-Black Towns that are no longer in existence:
Thanks to Robert Littlejohn, African-American Resource Center Advisory Committee member, for the photographs, information, and support.
You can learn more about Oklahoma’s all Black towns by reading Hannibal Johnson’s book, Acres of Aspiration: The All Black Towns in Oklahoma. The information from this site comes from Acres of Aspiration unless otherwise noted.
TOUR TEACHERS EDUCATORS HISTORY OF AREA’S BLACK TOWNS http://www.muskogeephoenix.com/local/local_story_199011752.html
TOUR OKLAHOMA’S HISTORIC BLACK TOWNS: http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2006/09/10/1875793.htm
ALL BLACK TOWNS OF FLORIDA
RELATED LINKS:PRESERVATIONISTS FIGHT FOR A UTOPIAN PAST: http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/07/news/cal.php
Allensworth (38 miles N of Bakersfield) Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
“Allensworth is the only California town to be founded, financed and governed by African Americans. The small farming community was founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth and a group of others dedicated to improving the economic and social status of African Americans. Uncontrollable circumstances, including a drop in the area’s water table, resulted in the town’s demise. With continuing restoration and special events, the town is coming back to life as a state historic park. The park’s visitor center features a film about the site. A yearly rededication ceremony reaffirms the vision of the pioneers.”
The website has historical information and images, as well as visitor and camping information. See also the Friends of Allensworth Website.
AFRICAN AMERICANS AND THE OLD WEST: http://www.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/african/west/west.htm