Read more about the history of Boley, including how it got its name.
Creating the Promised Land
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I was reading all the different things I was going to be covering this time around. As I read down the list, I came to Boley, Oklahoma. I said "What? I've never heard of Boley, Oklahoma." I know nothing about it; I couldn't even find it on the map the first time I looked. "Who? What? When? Where? How?": all those questions came to mind when I first saw Boley. But I would find the answers to those questions soon enough. After reading about Boley and traveling there, I soon found out some very interesting things.
Boley was an all-black town at the turn of the century. What I mean by an all-black town is that it was completely run by African Americans. They ran their own businesses; they had their own banks, newspaper, and city council. They even had the first electrical plant owned and operated by African Americans. The whole town was virtually self-sufficient. They were very successful at many different ends of the spectrum.
How did this change occur, right? Well, after the Civil War, the slaves owned by the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma were set free, as well as many others throughout the South. Now that the Civil War was over, where could the former slaves seek refuge? The tensions were still very high between black and whites.
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The place where they would eventually find this refuge would be in Indian Territory, or present-day Oklahoma, where the Five Civilized Tribes were. They felt that the Indians would treat them better than whites, which they did. So blacks migrated to Oklahoma from all over the country. The land on which Boley was settled was given to them by the Creeks; as a matter of fact, the Ozark Trail goes right through the north side of the town. The Ozark Trail was one of the more heavily used trails during the Trail Of Tears (the forced removal of Indians east of the Mississippi to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.) The relationship of the Creeks and blacks was really one of brotherhood. They coexisted in a peaceful manner, sometimes trading amongst one another and intermarrying.
Then, when oil was discovered near Tulsa, the faraway Indian Territory became a money-making situation for settlers. So, with economic interest, the government opened up Indian Territory to settlers. During the opening of Indian Territory, even more blacks came to Boley. About fifty other all-black towns all over also exploded into successful, self-sustainable towns. But Boley was definitely the most successful. At its heyday, Boley had a population of 4500. The town even had two different colleges you could attend to get an education. The town was so successful that the railroad companies decided to run the railroad right through the town; this created even more economic stability for Boley.
If you lived in Boley during its glory days, you probably felt safe. You could have your own business without being chased out by white settlers and businessmen. More often than not, you were probably very successful as a banker or a farmer. Times were good. Blacks in Boley didn't even have to lock their doors because they felt so comfortable and safe. Often there would be social gatherings in the city center where you got to dance and socialize with others on the non-work days. When these social events took place, the farmers would come into town, the people would get dressed up, and the downtown businesses would be open longer hours.
It's very interesting to realize that the former slaves who had been oppressed for so many years could come back and be successful at such amazing speed. That makes me realize that these former slaves really had a handle on what freedom was. They used their freedom to push them along in the most efficient way. It simply amazes me how much faith and determination these African Americans had during this time period in Oklahoma.
But, given the direction the government was heading, this success couldn't last forever. Just like everything else, the apple gets spoiled someday. In this case, the apple was Boley. The fall of Boley was the result of various things. One of the reasons was laws passed by Congress to limit the power of blacks, such as the Grandfather Clause. This law said you could only vote if your grandfather did. This took away all the voting power that blacks had, so they couldn't elect their city council or any government officials that would positively affect their local government. Soon there were only white people running an all-black town. So the decline of Boley began. First it was the segregation laws, and then the Depression came. People all across the country began to move from farms to the city. There were even different conspiracies to end the town's success. There was a back-to-Africa movement, which was to get people to return to Africa to find their roots. So, many sold their farms and businesses in order to do so, but they never made it to Africa. They basically moved back down South and to the North, thinking that they were going to make it back some day. But they never did; they just begin to blend in with the rest of society. Some say the back-to-Africa movement was created just to push along the downfall of Boley and several other black towns all across Oklahoma. By the 1920s, Boley was nearly vacant. Only close to one thousand people still lived there, and many more would leave throughout the next several years.
Boley still exists today, as well as thirteen other all-black towns. Boley today has a population of about 900 people, of whom 80% are retired. Some say one of the reasons why Boley still exists is because of people's faith. There are three denominations and nine different churches. In this little tiny town, the major businesses are a minimum-security prison, a mental healthcare clinic, and Smokaroma, which is a business that makes fast, clean, and easy pressure cookers. According to Chip Coleman, unofficial historian of Boley, the future plans for the town are to "hang on to what we have." They plan on preserving what they have in Boley and telling others about Boley's past. They also are going to continue to have their annual rodeo, where some 45,000 guests enter Boley for an unforgettable event. They have plans to build a park and are working on improving their museum.
So, as you can see, Boley and the black towns of Oklahoma were very successful on many different levels. And it's important to acknowledge what Boley did for the economy of the country, and what Boley did for African Americans in general. The town had hope; it showed other blacks that they could be successful and have a good life even after slavery. Also, the fall of Boley and the other black towns of Oklahoma was a sign that showed people that there is a lot of corruption by individuals and the government, that even after the Civil War there was still a different kind of slavery going on. The social injustices that the blacks went through and still go through today can be traced back to the little town of Boley. We have to recognize that many African Americans still suffer from slavery and social injustice. The issue of slavery is a pure example of how and why our history still has a very big impact on our everyday lives whether we want to accept it or not. So the struggle always continues; we have to accept that fact and help it as much as possible. What background you come from doesn't matter. As citizens of this country, and as human beings, we have to acknowledge what we have, how we have benefited from the past, and how we are going benefit from the things going on today.
Always remember to Keep The Peace.
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