The All-Black town now known as Taft started as the community of Twine, which had a post office by 1902. Taft, located eight miles west of Muskogee, in Muskogee County is one of more than fifty All-Black towns of Oklahoma and one of only thirteen still existing. The town name honored William H. Twine, who later moved and edited the Muskogee Cimeter. In 1904 citizens named the town Taft in honor of then Secretary of War (later President) William Howard Taft. The settlement developed in the Creek Nation on land allotted to Creek freedmen.
Early in the town's history the citizens promoted their community throughout the South. The Reaves Realty Company advertised Taft as the "fastest growing Colored community in Oklahoma." Taft had two newspapers, the Enterprise and the Tribune. The first mayor, Charlie Ford, owned Ford's Cotton Gin, and W. R. Grimmett operated a sawmill northwest of town. Before 1910 the community supported three general stores, one drugstore, a brickyard, a soda pop factory, a livery stable, a gristmill, a lumberyard, two hotels, a restaurant, a bank, and a funeral home.
Educational and state-agency facilities have always been important economic activities. Halochee Institute, founded in 1906, was the first of several educational institutes to locate there: W. T. Vernon School (1908), the Industrial Institute for the Deaf, Blind, and Orphans of the Colored Race (1909), Moton High School, and the State Training School for Negro Girls followed Halochee. In 1934 the Taft State Hospital for the Negro Insane was established. The state later placed two state penitentiaries in Taft: Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, for women, and Jess Dunn Correctional Center, for men.
From a population of 250 in 1907, Taft grew to 690 by 1937 and then slowly declined; by 1990 the population was four hundred. Taft City Hall is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 84003330). The Reeder Walker House and St. Paul Baptist Church are listed in the Oklahoma Landmarks Inventory. In 1973 the town elected Lelia Foley-Davis as mayor, making her the first female African American mayor in the United States. Davis stepped down in 1989 but was reelected in 1999. At the approach of the twenty-first century Taft exhibited a strong economy and a trend toward population growth.
SEE ALSO: AFRICAN AMERICAN FRATERNAL ORDERS, AFRICAN AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS, AFRICAN AMERICANS, ALL-BLACK TOWNS, BOLEY, CLEARVIEW, LELIA FOLEY-DAVIS, ROSENWALD SCHOOLS, SEGREGATION, WILLIAM H. TWINE, URBAN DEVELOPMENT
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Linda Gray, "Taft: Town on the Black Frontier," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 66 (Winter 1988-89). Kenneth Hamilton, Black Towns and Profit: Promotion and Development in the Trans-Appalachian West, 1877-1915 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991). "Taft," Vertical File, WPA Writers Project, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Arthur Tolson, The Black Oklahomans: A History, 1541-1972 (New Orleans: Edwards Printing Company, 1972).
© Oklahoma Historical Society