Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Encyclopedia Homepage
Search all Volumes
Disclaimer and Usage
Copyright 2007

Table of Contents Search All Entries Home


Lawyer and crusading editor of the Muskogee Cimeter, William Henry Twine, known as "The Black Tiger," was born December 10, 1864, in Red House, Madison County, Kentucky, to Thomas John and Lizzie Twine. Thomas Twine, part African American and part American Indian runaway slave from Virginia, worked as a wheelright and constructed wagons. Lizzie, described as being a "straight born African," was a renowned baker. She encouraged sales of her goods by cooking prizes in them, such a rings, for the customers to find. Soon after emancipation the Twines moved from Kentucky to Xenia, Ohio. William Twine matriculated in Xenia and after graduation began his teaching career in Richmond, Indiana. He later moved to Mexia, Texas, to teach. There he married Mittie Almira Richardson in 1889, and they would produce six sons.

On September 22, 1891, the Twines were among twenty thousand who made the Sac and Fox Land Run into Oklahoma Territory. Twine's 160-acre homestead was near Chandler, where he taught school. He was admitted to the Oklahoma Territory Bar on October 31, 1891, and he organized the territory's first black law firm with partners G. W. F. Sawner and E. I. Saddler. In 1897 the family moved to Guthrie.

After 1894 the work of the Dawes Commission attracted a number of lawyers to Indian Territory, and Twine soon moved his family to the Muskogee area. They joined a new settlement growing up on land belonging to John Rector, a Creek Freedman. Located one mile east of present day Taft, this community was named in honor of Twine.

Soon, however, Twine moved his family to Muskogee, where he practiced law on North Main Street. Eventually he built a brick office building on South Second Street to house his office and a newspaper, as well as other law offices, a doctor's office, a real estate office, and a tailor shop. Through his law practice and newspaper Twine defended the rights of the community's African Americans. From 1898 to 1904 he edited The Pioneer Paper. His second paper, which he published from 1904 to1921, was the Muskogee Cimeter.

Twine became active in the Republican Party, which was the majority party by a small margin in the Territorial government. Due to its sponsorship of Jim Crow laws, the Democratic Party was perceived to be the biggest impediment to first-class citizenship for blacks in the Twin Territories. The Republican "Lily-Whites," however, hoped to increase their sway over the government by disassociating their party from its African American supporters. These Republicans often would side with the Democrats in supporting segregation in order to show that they were just as "white" as the Democrats. Blacks of the two territories had to use every available political and legal tool to fight segregation and discrimination. The black community's most powerful weapons in this struggle were their newspapers and the court system.

In 1905 the Sequoyah Convention was held to push for Indian Territory's statehood. In a July 20, 1905, Cimeter article Twine complained that politicians courted the black vote when it was needed, but when blacks wanted to represent themselves, politicians ignored them. No African Americans were selected for the Single Statehood Convention held July 12, 1905, in Oklahoma City.

Twine and W. A. Rentie called blacks to hold a separate convention in Muskogee on August 21, 1905, due to their exclusion from the previous conventions. The Cimeter reported that on December 5, 1906, three hundred black delegates attended a second convention and demanded that the Guthrie Constitutional Convention make no laws that would restrict African Americans' rights and privileges. The Negro Protective League of Oklahoma and Indian Territories called for yet another convention to be held April 20, 1907. During that assembly the delegates resolved to condemn the new state constitution because of its Jim Crow provisions and urged blacks in both territories to oppose it.

Realizing that the "Lily-White" forces had captured the Republican Party. Twine led the revolt against statehood. With A. W. G. Sango, and other prominent African American leaders he traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. They hoped to convince him to overrule Oklahoma statehood because of the constitution's rejection of civil rights. However, on November 16, 1907, Oklahoma became the forty-sixth state, and the very first measure passed by the legislature, Senate Bill Number One, established segregation on railway cars. As a result, Rentie, president of the Anti-Jim Crow League, and Twine filed suit.

These and other civil rights fights involving Twine drew the attention of the so-called white caps, or the Ku Klux Klan. For three years his life was constantly threatened. When the Klan wrote him a front-page letter explaining what they were going to do to him, he was defiant. He responded that he would not avoid a fight and that he and his six sons daily walked to his office at 9:00 a.m.

After nearly two decades of editing the Muskogee Cimeter, he retired from publishing in 1921 but continued his law practice. William H. Twine died in Muskogee on October 8, 1933.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Black Dispatch (Oklahoma City), 12 October 1933. Orben J. Casey, And Justice For All: The Legal Profession In Oklahoma, 1821-1989 (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 1989). Linda C. Gray, "Taft: Town on the Black Frontier," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 66 (Winter 1988-89). Phillip Mellinger, "Discrimination and Statehood in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 49 (Autumn 1971). Muskogee Democrat (Indian Territory), 5 June 1905 and 18 August 1905. Muskogee Times Democrat (Indian Territory), 23 September 1907 and 19 October 1907, Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools,1971) C. W. "Dub" West, Muskogee: From Statehood to Pearl Harbor (Muskogee, Okla.: Muscogee Publishing Company, 1976).

Jimmie L. White, Jr.

© Oklahoma Historical Society

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site