The history of African Americans in Oklahoma is a story unlike any to be found in the United States. African Americans came to this region as cowboys, settlers, gunfighters, and farmers. By statehood in 1907, they outnumbered both Indians and first- and second-generation Europeans. They created more all-black towns in Oklahoma than in the rest of the country put together, produced some of the country's greatest jazz musicians, and led some of the nation's greatest civil rights battles.
One of the great omissions in the history books was the role African American soldiers played in the Civil War. Blacks first fought alongside whites during the Battle of Honey Springs, an engagement fought on July 17, 1863, on a small battlefield outside present-day Muskogee.
Black troops held the Union's center line in that battle, breaking the Confederate's center and giving the Union a critical win that secured both the Arkansas River and the Texas Road (the region's major transportation routes). This ensured the Union a solid foothold in Indian Territory -- one it never relinquished.
A year after the Civil War ended in 1865, Congress passed a bill providing provisions for black troops, what became the 9th and 10th cavalry. The 10th went on to be headquartered at Fort Gibson; the 9th was stationed at Fort Sill. Black soldiers built Oklahoma forts; fought bandits, cattle thieves, and Mexican revolutionaries (including Pancho Villa); and policed borders during the land runs. They also played a critical role in the Indian Wars of the late 1800s, earning the respect of Native Americans who gave them the name of "Buffalo Solders."
After the Civil War, Freedmen and new African American settlers in Oklahoma could vote, study, and move about with relative freedom. Pamphlets distributed throughout the South urged African Americans to join land runs in Indian
Territory, to create businesses, cities and perhaps even the first black state. Pamphlets promising a black paradise in Oklahoma lured tens of thousands of former slaves from the South. Eventually 27 black towns grew to encompass 10 percent of Indian Territory's population.
Today many of Oklahoma's original black towns and districts are gone, but those that remain still host rodeos, Juneteenth celebrations, and community reunions.
For a list of important African Americans in Oklahoma, please visit the Oklahoma Historical Society's web site.