Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gems from the Black Press: The 1920 Negro State Fair, of Oklahoma

This article is part of a series  of articles whose purpose is to share each week an interesting article from early black publications of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As previously noted,the articles found inside of these long forgotten publications contain rich history that reflect  the early years of African America life in the first decades of freedom. Some are publications of fraternal or benevolent societies, and some were more community based. All  pieces shared in this series provide a close up to history and culture of times long past.

The Tulsa Star. (Tulsa, Okla.) October 9, 1920, Weekly Mail Edition, Page 1
Accessed from: Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress

In the early first half of the 20th century, life in the new state of Oklahoma was a fascinating place to be. Although segregation had worked its way into what was once Indian Territory, there was still an amazing and thriving, self-supporting Black community. A fascinating article from the Tulsa Star from October 1920 reflects much of the spirit of the Oklahoma African American population.

During that time, North Tulsa and the Greenwood District was thriving, black towns numbered more than two dozen, and the future looked bright for this state once a part of the western frontier. The article of October 9, 1920 provides and amazing glimpse into early Oklahoma Black life, especially before the 1921 racial disturbance when the Greenwood District was attacked.

The event was the Negro State Fair, scheduled to unfold in Wewoka, Oklahoma. The fair was a four day event taking place on the ranch of J. Coody Johnson, a leader in the Freedmen Community in Wewoka. and was expected to draw people from throughout the state.  The Negro Fair was widely celebrated and accepted by officials of the state. The fair was directed primarily to the African American population, as was clearly spelled out in the article.

The fair was endorsed by the larger community, and a presence from the entire state of Oklahoma was anticipated! Schools were closed for two days with permission of the State Superintendent. Also for entertainment there were exhibits and for the daring, flights in an airplane were also available. This was amazing during an era when air traffic was not frequent.

The fair was organized by attorney, and rancher J. Coody Johnson, known to have been a strong advocate for Seminole Freedmen. He was a wealthy man by the early 1900s and his land was used for the state event. He was assisted by Mrs. Julia Davidson of Wewoka who served as secretary for the event.

The Tulsa Star. (Tulsa, Okla.) October 9, 1920, Weekly Mail Edition, Page 4
Accessed from: Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress

Organizers of the Negro State Fair, Wewoka, Oklahoma

It is not known how often the fair was held after the event of 1920. But it is quite clear that this is an event that should be noted as one in which the members of the Oklahoma Black community  sought to honor their own accomplishments, and to celebrate their successes during those four memorable days in 1920. 


MissDazey said...

Mr. Johnson's bio must be extremely interesting. What more do you know about him?

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

There is a lot to know about J. Coody Johnson--he was a Creek Freedman, and had an amazing history. He was also an attorney, community leader, and activist for Seminole Freedmen as well. I may eventually write a piece about him.

Unknown said...

Is it possible that he came from MS?