The Oklahoma Black Homesteader Project (OBHP) seeks to recover, reevaluate, and reclaim histories of rural African Americans in Oklahoma Territory pre-statehood (1907) and beyond. Between 1889-1907, thousands of African Americans emigrated into the Oklahoma district of Indian Territory in search of the freedom to exist outside Jim Crow policies and “Black Codes” that limited civil liberties and rights in other parts of the United States. Many of the individuals and families who relocated formed tight-knit, all-Black communities in areas inside and outside of newly established townships in northwestern, central, and southern counties. These homesteading communities with names like “Sweet Home,” “Elbow,” and “Lincoln City” served as glimpses into the possibilities of equality and autonomy. While there are many examples of successful relocation, hundreds of new Black residents were also prevented from remaining on their claims due to very little capital or political power and persistent anti-Black racism in what soon became an increasingly hostile and unwelcoming racialized environment. The OBHP hopes to foster complex and rich conversations about how the history of Oklahoma is connected to the promises and ideals of Black freedom locally and nationwide. The OBHP will serve as a digital archive of census data, maps, visual guides, oral histories, narratives, and scholarship chronicling this period in American history.TEAM ADDITIONAL READING MEDIA
We are working to discover and preserve stories of African Americans who claimed homesteads in the Great Plains. If your ancestor was a Black homesteader, we invite you to help us save these stories for future generations. You can do so by telling us about your ancestors via email.
Public talk: Oct. 27, 2022
*The OBHP understands that homesteading on the Plains was a fraught and controversial practice promoted by the Federal Government for American citizens (and those intending to become citizens) to have an opportunity to obtain unoccupied land. The terms “free land” and “surplus lands” were often reprinted in advertisements and pamphlets urging white southerners, European immigrants, and eventually African Americans to resettle parts of the American west. We recognize that while the land in question was available at the time of occupation, it was never “free” due to the financial, emotional, and psychological price paid by members of Native/Indigenous communities who surrendered allotments, and that many Native nations did not consider the land to be “surplus” even if unoccupied.
*The Oklahoma Black Homesteader Project (OKBHP) is funded by an extension of a multi-year grant from the National Park Service and a seed grant funded by the Data Institute of Societal Challenges (DISC) at the University of Oklahoma. The OKBHP exists in partnership with Homestead National Park, the Center for Great Plains Studies, and the University of Oklahoma.
Photo: African American family and homestead, 1889, Oklahoma Territory (4574.17, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection, OHS)