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Lee Cruce

Although Langston University (formerly Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University) is the only historically African American college still operating in Oklahoma, there were many schools of higher learning that catered to blacks in the state. Slaves brought in by American Indian tribes were followed by a post-Civil War African American migration that lasted into the twentieth century. The development of All-Black towns and even a push for a black state accompanied the establishment of these schools. After slavery many African Americans were preoccupied with the education of their children and pushed for more educational opportunity at all levels.

Each of the Five Civilized Tribes had an African American school at the end of the nineteenth century. The Creek had Pecan Creek and Tullahassee missions and various neighborhood schools. The Cherokee operated the Cherokee Colored High School and various neighborhood schools. The Choctaw maintained the Oak Hill Industrial Academy, Tushkaloosa Academy, and various neighborhood schools. The Chickasaw and Seminole had smaller schools. In the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations the promotion and operation of black schools met prejudice and stiff resistance. Otherwise, there was an overall lack of basic educational opportunities for freedmen, which helps explain a lack of higher educational institutions until the turn of the twentieth century.

Oklahoma's early-day institutions of higher learning for African Americans were few. Claver College, a Catholic-affiliated school located in Guthrie, was the only African American Catholic college west of the Mississippi. Claver, named for St. Peter Claver, held classes primarily at night and folded in the early 1940s. Other colleges included Methodist Episcopal College at Boley, Flipper-Key-Davis University in Tullahassee, Creek-Seminole College, which started at Boley, Sango Baptist College in Muskogee, and Oklahoma Baptist College for Girls in Sapulpa. Headed by Drusilla Dunjee Houston, the Sapulpa school had a short educational life but offered two-year teaching degrees above a high-school education. This list may not be complete, and the grade level of education is unknown in most instances.

Another aspect of African American higher education was the process by which black teachers acquired teaching certificates. Every summer in differing locations there were county "normal" schools or conferences that had the authority to issue or renew certificates for successfully completed work. In 1916 the Oklahoma Legislature ended this practice and, starting the next year, most African American teachers had to travel to the college at Langston. Some of these smaller colleges tried to relieve that burden by offering appropriate courses.

J. C. Leftwich seems to have been the initiator of many institutions of higher learning at the start of the new century. In 1899 Leftwich resided in Alabama, where near Montgomery he founded a black town, Klondike, and opened his first academy. He also held a federal position as receiver of public money in Montgomery, but he failed reappointment. By 1903 he was living in Oklahoma City and was editing of the Western World newspaper. In 1904 he became president of Sango Baptist College in Muskogee. In August 1905 Rev. P. R. Neil replaced him. Controversy and confusion exist about Leftwitch's dismissal. He still raised money for the college after his association with the institution had seemingly ended. Under tremendous financial strain its whole existence, the college succumbed to debt in the summer of 1908.

Leftwich next presided over Creek-Seminole College in Boley, which he established around 1906. In 1914, after the college building burned down, he moved the school to Clearview and reopened it in 1916 as Creek-Seminole Agricultural College. In a 1917 letter to Oklahoma Gov. Robert L. Williams, Leftwich claimed to have modeled the college on the Tuskegee plan and noted that the campus had five concrete-block buildings on ninety-two acres of land. He also claimed an enrollment of 225 students and a faculty of ten teachers. By 1919 Leftwich had sold the Clearview campus to the Baptist Church and opened Bookertee Agricultural and Mechanical College in Bookertee, Okfuskee County. In 1923 Sam White, an instructor at Bookertee, shot and killed Leftwich, probably over a money dispute. Around 1920 the Baptists relocated Creek-Seminole Agricultural College from Clearview to Okmulgee and renamed it Southwest Creek and Seminole Baptist College.

Flipper-Key-Davis University, affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, operated eight miles northwest of Muskogee in the old Tullahassee Mission. In 1914 the AME church purchased the mission from the United States and began the school. By 1935, when the institution closed, it had been transformed into the Flipper-Davis Junior College and occupied seven frame buildings on a campus of forty acres.

Other schools were only nominally successful. N. A. R. Leslie operated a private normal school at Muskogee in 1890. Tuition was eight dollars a month, with students' laundry done for another dollar. She also operated the Afro-American International Institute and School of Arts in that city. Neither school survived past 1900, as Leslie moved out of town. Another movement, started in 1906 at Muskogee, established Halochee Industrial Institute at Taft. The backers, including Alice Robertson, claimed this school would be an offspring of Tuskegee. The industrial school conducted its first commencement in June 1907.

Although none of these institutions lasted into the twenty-first century, their existence testifies to the importance of education held by many of the race. Segregated from educational opportunities that served whites in the Twin Territories and into statehood, African American Oklahomans developed their own schools at all levels. From John Dunjee's fifteen-hundred-book library that served as an informal training ground for many young African Americans to the many students who, like B. C. Franklin, left Oklahoma to attend colleges such as Bishop in Texas, Tuskegee in Alabama, Morehouse in Atlanta, and Howard in Washington, D.C., and returned as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, blacks have circumvented restrictive educational laws in Oklahoma.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Worth J. Hadley, "Roscoe Dunjee on Education: The Improvement of Black Education in Oklahoma" (Ed.D. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1981). J. P. Owens, Clearview (Okemah, Okla.: J .P. Owens, 1995). Alice Robertson Collection, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971).

Larry O'Dell

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