Black Towns and More
Welcome to Rentiesville!
documentaries being created on the Black Towns – originally about 100 in Oklahoma (in 1900) , now about 13 …check www.struggleandhope.com or .org and www.facebook.com/struggleandHope for the work of Kari Barber which is extraordinary.
USDA Exhibit shown in an International Convention in Memphis and donated to our Museum by Ryan McMullin
Selby keeps the work she and D.C. Minner started together moving forward – the Rentiesville Blues Festival, The Hall of Fame and now the Museum..not to mention the BAND Blues on the Move!
The Blues Club, now includes the D.C. Minner Rentiesville Museum
and Exhibit Black Towns To Blues Festivals! Open Sundays 1 – 5 pm
Tour visits Oklahoma ‘s historic black towns
SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Tulsa World (Final Home Edition), Page A26 of News
Annual bus trips open doors to often-overlooked information about the state’s cultural history.
MUSKOGEE — If Cassandra Gaines can persuade them, all of the state’s legislators would hop on a bus to learn more about the intriguing history of Oklahoma ‘s black towns.
“I want to show them the untold history, the rough treasure we have that so many people from out of state see the importance of,” she said. “I want them to see the rough diamond that everybody else is coming to see.”
Gaines is the multicultural coordinator and historic black town tour director for Muskogee . She started the tours in 1997 and said they have gained in popularity over the years.
More than 50 people from across the country and Canada attended a July 14 tour, and Gaines is filling up bus seats for the next one on Oct. 2. Later this month, she’ll be generating more interest for the tours at the African Diaspora Heritage Trail conference in Hamilton , Bermuda .
About 60 black towns were founded following the Civil War by blacks who were recently freed from Southern slavery or who were members of American Indian tribes. Most of these towns — more than 20 — were incorporated in Oklahoma on land previously occupied by one of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Each tour offers a small boost to the town’s small economies. Souvenirs are bought, dinners are eaten and museums are scoured to catch a glimpse of the past.
“It’s not a whole lot, but it helps and some people who have been on tour have shown interest in buying property up in the towns,” Gaines said. “Some of them are moving back. It’s much cheaper than in the big cities. New homes are popping up everywhere in these little towns. You can’t expect a young person to come, but if somebody is looking for a place to retire or a place to invest, this is their opportunity.”
Michael Bennett, a television producer and host of Globetrotting on BET’s Jazz Network, was among those touring this summer. Bennett is pitching a one-hour history on the Oklahoma black towns to the major networks.
“As an African-American myself, until I visited Oklahoma earlier this year, I had no idea the history behind these towns,” Bennett said.
Most striking for Bennett was the fact that for the most part the towns that formed in Oklahoma after the Civil War were self-sufficient.
“It kind of shocked me. The first female African-American mayor (Lelia Foley-Davis) sat by me — I’m sitting there in total awe,” Bennett said.
The fact these black citizens owned and operated their own banks and real estate firms was not part of the history books Bennett read growing up.
“It’s quite amazing,” he said.
The communities of Taft, Boley and Rentiesville are on tap for Gaines’ next tour group on Oct. 2.
In Taft , visitors are presented with breakfast and blues music by Harold Aldridge and Pat Moss. They’re greeted by the first female black mayor Lelia Foley-Davis.
There are about 1,600 people who work in Taft at the Jess Dunn Correctional Center and the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center for women. A few hundred people are actual residents of Taft.
You can’t go to Rentiesville without hearing about the remarkable lives of two of its most prominent sons, John Hope Franklin, a renowned scholar, and D.C. Minner, an inspiring bluesman.
Franklin , 91, is James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University . Franklin has written more than a dozen books and is considered a preeminent authority on black history.
Minner and his wife, Selby, operate the last business in Rentiesville, the Down Home Blues Club. They also host the annual Dusk Til Dawn Blues Festival Labor Day weekend, which attracts thousands.
Tourgoers also stop by the Honey Springs Battlefield Memorial Park , 3 1/2 miles northeast of Checotah. It is the site of the largest Civil War battle in Indian Territory that for the first time had Indians, blacks, whites and Hispanics in combat. A re-enactment is held at the battle site every three years.
Boley was the largest black town in the state with about 7,000 residents in 1911. There were many businesses including the first black-owned bank, telephone and electric companies.
Pretty Boy Floyd’s partner George Birdwell attempted to rob the bank in 1932 with two other men.
As the story goes, Birdwell was shot dead by the bookkeeper, who retrieved a shotgun from the vault. The bank president sounded the alarm, and Birdwell’s two cohorts, a young black man named Charley Glass and C.C. Patterson, were met by a group of armed citizens. Glass was killed and Patterson was severely wounded and went on to serve time in prison in McAlester .
Today the Boley population is around 700. Henrietta Hicks is the local historian at the museum which has a variety of artifacts.
Boley is the home of Smokaroma, the maker of the pressure smokers that are sold all over the world. The town also hosts the annual Boley Rodeo.
For more information about the Black Town tours, call 1-888-687-6137, ext. 23, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Hylton 581-8381
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Bluesman D.C. Minner calls black town Rentiesville home
SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Tulsa World (Final Home Edition), Page A26 of News
Minner helps keep blues and his hometown alive.
RENTIESVILLE — D.C. Minner’s ancestors were seeking a better life when they boarded a covered wagon in Alabama to come to Oklahoma to help settle a black town.
They found it.
Minner’s great-great-grandfather, a pharmacist named Clark Martin, arrived in 1902 and soon opened drug stores in Rentiesville and Eufaula. They became a family of entrepreneurs, Minner said.
As Minner’s daughter, Sheila Huntington of Norman , recalls the family story, their ancestors found a friendlier culture in the Creek Nation.
Minner’s grandmother, Lura Eufaula Martin, raised him with the help of his “baby aunty” who was just 14 when he was born. They had a grocery store, restaurant and corn whiskey hall “when it was illegal.”
“My grandmother said if she could run that corn whiskey place till the day her baby left home, she’d never do anything else illegal. So the day I went into the service, she stopped selling corn whiskey,” Minner said.
Minner’s stint in the service was as an Army medic during the Korean War. But most know him as a blues legend. He spent a dozen years on the road with his musician wife, Selby, whom he met in Berkeley , Calif. , in the ’70s.
The couple moved back to Rentiesville in 1979 and in 1988, they reopened Minner’s grandmother’s old corn whiskey hall as the Down Home Blues Club at 701 D.C. Minner St .
It’s the place “on the corner” where his family has lived and run businesses since 1915.
“It was just my turn to be the head of the family and protect the family land,” said Minner, now 71.
“I have great-grand kids now that come to see me. That tradition would be broke if I lived in Los Angeles .”
There were perhaps 1,000 people living in Rentiesville when Minner was a child. There was a post office and a train stop. But after World War II, many of the servicemen didn’t move back. But what really killed the town was the decline of the cotton patches that many in the community farmed, Minner said.
Some retirees are now moving back, finding it an inexpensive place to live, and Minner said that’s keeping the small community alive.
Today, perhaps 85 people still live in Rentiesville, and Minner knows them all.
“If I don’t know them personally, I can look at them and tell which family they’re from,” he said. “In Rentiesville, you don’t have to be anybody else; you can be yourself.”
But 3,000 to 4,000 people manage to navigate their way off the beaten path to attend Minner’s annual Dusk Til Dawn Blues Festival each Labor Day weekend.
“Blues is just great music; it’s not prepackaged,” said Charlie Everett of Eufaula during this year’s festival. “You’re getting close to the heart of it here.”
Minner doesn’t mind being a tourist attraction. He loves for people to stop by the club on the tours and typically entertains the group with blues and stories about the road.
“The black tourists are interested in Honey Springs (a nearby Civil War battlefield) and others are looking for their roots,” he said.
Most blues musicians have been through Minner’s place at some point. Photographs of blues legends line the walls. Other bigger stars would like to bear witness to the “authenticity of this place,” Minner said, but they don’t want to generate a madhouse.
In a young state like Oklahoma , Selby said she and her husband can make a difference, and they’ve been recognized for it. They were presented a governor’s proclamation last week for dedicating their lives to blues music and spreading it around the world and for hosting a cultural event like the blues festival.
The Minners have been on the state Arts Council since 1990 and are active in artist-in-residency programs bringing blues music into the schools.
The couple also offer free sessions for aspiring musicians known as the Rentiesville Jam Band twice a month, and they’re always open the first Saturday of the month for a special performance of their own with their band Blues on the Move.
And it isn’t just music where they’ve left their mark: 15 years ago they started Rentiesville’s volunteer fire department.
D.C. Minner at his Blues Fest and Receiving an OAC Lifetime Achievement Award at the Festival
This report below is also in the D.C. Minner Story page:
From Black Towns… (essay without photos) (with photos below)
The Oklahoma Black town movement is unique in American history. After the Civil War In the late 19th and early 20th century, the land that would become Oklahoma was still split into Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. During this period, forty-four all-Black towns sprang up as hopeful locations for both freed slaves of the five southeastern tribes who had been removed to Indian Territory in the 1830s, as well as new Black migrants looking for better economic opportunities and to escape oppressive racist conditions of the post-Civil War South.
The Civil War’s presence in Indian Territory is directly related to Black pride in the area, as the Battle of Honey Springs, fought July 17, 1863, witnessed the first pitched combat by uniformed African-American troops, the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who fought alongside Anglo and American Indian troops. Fought just north of what is now Rentiesville, the battle has been called the “Gettysburg of the West,” because the Federal victory gave the Union Army dominion over the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) Nations, the Arkansas River, and the north-south route through Indian Territory, the Texas Road, now known as U.S. Highway 69.
After the Civil War, freed Blacks settled in the rural areas around Muskogee, but it was not until the Dawes Commission began breaking up tribal lands and allotting 160 acres to both freedmen and tribal members that the idea of all-Black towns came about. As one of many territory all-Black towns such as Taft, Summit, Clearview, Boley, and Langston, the settlement of Rentiesville was established in 1904 by entrepreneur William Rentie, a mixed-blood Muscogee (Creek) and African-American. Rentie was born near Muskogee in February, 1863. A university graduate and public school teacher, Rentie also practiced law and served as a member of the House of Representatives in the Muscogee (Creek) Legislature. Due to his understanding of the complicated land policies that affected allotments, Rentie was one of the leaders of the Black town movement, placing notices in newspapers to promote the plan to provide African-Americans a place to prosper.
The excited tone of advertisements placed in Territory and Southern newspapers indicates the positive attitude leaders such as Rentie had for the Black towns and the future state. Placed one day before Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907, an ad ran in Muskogee’s Black newspaper, The Cimiter: “To our colored friends throughout the United States, we send you greetings. The Indian Territory and Oklahoma are now a new state. Thousands of our Native people are land holders, and have thousands of acres of rich lands to rent and lease. We prefer to rent and to lease our lands to colored people. Our terms will be found reasonable. You are invited to come and share and enjoy our lands and our prosperity in the new state of Oklahoma.”
Rentiesville itself was advertised in large ads that claimed it to be “The pick of the territory. No town to compare with it that is being promoted for colored people. It’s yours, an ideal location on the main line of the M.K. & T Railway, the best railway service in the Southwest; no better site anywhere, and backed by a section rich in industrial resources.” On the town’s founding, one of the Black town movement’s leaders, N.A. Robinson, said in a 1904 speech, “It has been the custom of the Negro race to follow the footprints of other races, but the time has come for the Negro to lay the foundation and grapple with great concerns like other people.” With a post office, public water well, railway passenger stop, two churches (Baptist and African Methodist Epicscopal), a school, and several “business houses” selling a variety of goods, Rentiesville was on its way to becoming an important town in the area. As the town’s size grew, and due to the publicity about the new opportunities for people of African descent in Indian Territory, word spread quickly about the Black town movement within and outside of the “Twin Territories.” One early family, led by attorney B.C. Franklin, relocated from Ardmore to Rentiesville to escape racist attitudes. This led to Rentiesville being the birthplace of Dr. John Hope Franklin, the premier African-American historian of the 20th century. Stories about the Black town movement also led D.C. Minner’s ancestors to make their way from Alabama to Rentiesville. Once in place, D.C.’s grandparents opened a grocery store that eventually became the Cozy Corner, a place where locals could listen to music, dance, and drink home-made Choc beer, or corn liquor, and which D.C. and Selby Minner would ultimately convert into the Dusk til Dawn Blues Club.
As a result of the economic hardships of the 1920s and 1930s, Rentiesville and other Black towns began to wither as no jobs existed to keep young people in the towns, and agricultural harvests were not enough to provide a tax base to provide basic public amenities to the people. As a result, many of the Black towns went bankrupt and converted into rural communities from which people traveled to larger nearby towns for goods, services, and public school education. Contemporarily, only a few of the Black towns still exist, to include Taft, Summit, Redbird, Clearview, Boley, Langston, and Rentiesville. When a person visits Rentiesville today, whether it is to see the Honey Springs Battlefield or the Down Home Blues Club, they are in touch with the diverse history of the first Oklahomans of the statehood year in 1907. Additionally, modern Oklahomans can see how the state evolved out of the shattered promises by the Federal government to American Indians; then, the state may have been one of the most progressive in the nation regarding the hopes of African Americans already here, and those on the way to what they perceived as a new beginning in the Black town movement. Finally, one can understand the resolute desire on the part of Anglo-Americans to create a brand new state that would be as great as any other, even if they were often misguided by prejudices handed down by their own ancestors. By understanding the totality of this history, modern Oklahomans can recognize the state’s uniqueness is directly related to its multi-cultural beginnings, and move forward educating future generations about the way in which people of differing backgrounds impact one another, for better or worse, as neighbors and fellow citizens.
FROM ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW – from East Los Angeles
THIS IS THE COMPLETE PAGE from the old version of this websiteBlack Town Tours Map and DC and Rentiesville PRESS