All Men Up: Race, Rights, and Power in the All-black Town of Boley, Oklahoma, 1903-1939
Established in 1903 in Creek Nation, Indian Territory, Boley attracted African American migrants seeking freedoms denied to them in their Southern birthplaces. These settlers saw Indian Territory as the West, but their town was built on land owned by Creek Freedmen, the descendants of slaves owned by Native Americans. Upon a landscape already scarred by slavery and displacement, black settlers founded a utopian community that they hoped would prove to whites their abilities to function as social, economic, and political equals within the larger American society. These dreams were dashed following Oklahoma statehood in 1907 and the rise of Jim Crow. When black Oklahomans were disfranchised in 1910, the people of Boley aggressively fought to regain their voting rights. In addition the town became a staging ground for voting rights activism throughout the state. The first decade of the voting rights struggle took place largely on the grass roots level. However, after World War I, black Oklahomans joined the NAACP in hopes of adding more power to their arsenal of tactics to fight disfranchisement. Boley then became an early center of NAACP organizing in the state, but ironically as the NAACP's presence in Oklahoma increased, the importance of Boley in the fight for voting rights in the state declined and has subsequently been forgotten.