Boley, located halfway between Paden and Castle in Okfuskee County, is the largest and most well known of the more than fifty All-Black towns of Oklahoma and one of only thirteen still existing. The town, established on land allotted to Creek freedman James Barnett's daughter Abigail, was named after J. B. Boley, a railroad official of the Fort Smith and Western Railway. Founded in 1903 and incorporated in 1905, Boley and the African Americans living in the area prospered for many years. The Boley Progress, a weekly newspaper, began in 1905. The paper and various advertising campaigns circulated through the South and lured many former slaves to the new town.
By 1911 Boley boasted more than four thousand citizens and many businesses, including two banks and three cotton gins. Booker T. Washington, founder of the National Negro Business League and the Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama, visited the town in 1905 and proclaimed it "the most enterprising and in many ways the most interesting of the Negro towns in the United States." The town supported two colleges: Creek-Seminole College, and Methodist Episcopal College. Boley also had its own electrical generating plant, water system, and ice plant. The Masonic Grand Lodge completed a majestic Masonic Temple around 1912. At the time, it was said to be the tallest building between Okmulgee and Oklahoma City.
Like many rural towns, Boley suffered through hard times in the 1920s and 1930s. By World War II the population had declined to seven hundred. At the dawn of a new century, the town was experiencing economic rejuvenation. The town still hosts the nation's oldest African American community-based rodeo every Memorial Day weekend. Boley's downtown business district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 75001568) and has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Norman Crockett, The Black Towns (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1979). Norman Crockett, "Witness to History: Booker T. Washington Visits Boley," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 67 (Winter 1989-90). "Facts about Boley Oklahoma: The Largest and Wealthiest Exclusive Negro City in the World" (Boley, Oklahoma, Commercial Club ). Kenneth Hamilton, "Townsite Speculation and the Origin of Boley, Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 55 (Summer 1977). Booker T. Washington, "Boley, a Negro Town in the West," Outlook 88 (4 January 1908).
© Oklahoma Historical Society