David J. Wallace, attorney, educator, territorial representative, and community leader, was born into slavery about 1850 in South Carolina. His family moved to Nacogdoches, Texas, after the Civil War. Wallace's parents made certain that he received an education, an uncommon occurrence among individuals born into slavery. Eventually he graduated from Wiley University in Marshall, Texas.
In 1891 Wallace moved his family to the All-Black town of Langston where he became the city's first lawyer and served as city attorney. In addition, he worked as the Langston Herald newspaper's office manager and as a community teacher.
Wallace played a prominent role in getting a university for African Americans in Langston. In July 1892 a committee composed of Wallace, R. E. Stewart, and Edward Robinson met with the Territorial Legislature's School and College Committee. Wallace claimed to be one of the founders of Oklahoma Agricultural and Normal University, now Langston University.
In 1893 he became the second African American elected to the Territorial Legislature. He represented Logan County District Twenty-two. In 1901 Wallace worked for the Colored Immigration Bureau as secretary. In 1903 he moved to Enid and served as principal of the Enid separate school for two years and then settled in Okmulgee in 1905. There he operated the law firm of Stephens and Wallace. In June 1920 Wallace won an important court case requiring more equitable funding of schools for Okmulgee's African American school children. Also in 1920 he acted as a member of the Oklahoma Interracial Commission, a group that worked to prevent lynching.
Wallace participated in the Negro IOOF (Odd Fellows) and Masonic order and held the position of grand master for both organizations. He also worshiped at the Okmulgee Presbyterian Church. David J. Wallace died September 13, 1928, at about the age of seventy. His funeral generated the attendance of both black and white admirers who, as his obituary stated, "desired to pay their final respects to a man who won his way from slavery to prominence at the bar and respect as a citizen."
SEE ALSO: AFRICAN AMERICAN FRATERNAL ORDERS, AFRICAN AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS, AFRICAN AMERICANS, ALL-BLACK TOWNS, CIVIL RIGHTS, GREEN I. CURRIN, GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS, ALBERT C. HAMLIN, LANGSTON, LYNCHING, SEGREGATION, SLAVERY
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Helen Holmes, ed., Logan County History, Vol. 2 (Guthrie, Okla.: Logan County Historical Society, 1978). Oklahoma Red Book, Vol. 2 (Oklahoma City: Secretary of State, 1912). Okmulgee (Oklahoma) Times Democrat, 16 September 1928. Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971).
Helen M. Stiefmiller
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