Tatums: Town that Freedom built

Tatums_grocer-996x747.jpg

Varner's Grocery no longer serves customers as Tatums is no longer an active town - except on Sundays, when descendants gather at the town's church.

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After the Civil War, the enslaved people owned by the Indian nations in Indian Territory were freed in two ways: through the 13th amendment as well as through new treaties signed between the tribes and the federal government in 1866.

Self-Segregation
The treaties stipulated new conditions of tribal existence, which led to the eventual break up of Indian Territory and the formation of the state of Oklahoma. One of the conditions - which was not placed on white Southerners after the Civil War - was that the tribes had to provide land for the freed people. Many African American families founded farms, and quite quickly, small towns developed to encourage commerce and the building of community churches and schools. The Creeks and the Cherokees were the first to implement the land allotments and thus, the first all-black towns were established there. With the encouragement of Civil Rights leaders like Booker T. Washington, towns like Boley, Langston, Rentiesville, and Taft grew into sizable alternatives for African Americans throughout the South, who viewed Indian Territory as a kind of "promised land" free of racism and segregation (unfortunately, that turned out to be wishful thinking, as the Tulsa Race
Massacre attests).

Tatums Rising
By the 1890s - after the enactment of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 - land speculators wooed blacks to this self-segregated and self-sufficient place. In Carter County, northwest of Ardmore, Lee and Mary Tatum founded an eponymous community surrounding their hotel and store after applying for a post office. Though never a very large town, Tatums became an important center of rural black life in the early 20th century. Using some funds from the Rosenwald Foundation, citizens built a large school in the 1920s, the same decade in which the silent movie, "Black Gold," was filmed in town. A decade later, "Pretty Boy" Charles Floyd laid low in Tatums for a while, too.

Though the town is still incorporated, Tatums has lost a considerable amount of its population due to economic downturns, and it didn't help that the town also never saw a railroad pass through, either. Today, Tatums is just a little way-side stop along OK 7. It's the history that merits this town a closer look.

 

tatums_school_pink-994x1257
tatums_school_pink-994x1257

Tatums' Headstart Center is now gone, and was in ruins when I visited a few years back. The building sat on the site of the Rosenwald school and may have been erected with bricks from the old building.

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tatums_old_house-987x744

Lovely old home, slightly the worse for wear, in Tatums

Booker_T2
Booker_T2

Booker T. Washington, a prominent Civil Rights leader of the post-Civil War era, encouraged self-sufficiency and self-segregation for African Americans. The black newspaper The Muskogee Cimeter reported on his upcoming visit in a special edition in 1905.

tatums_school_pink-994x1257
tatums_school_pink-994x1257

Tatums' Headstart Center is now gone, and was in ruins when I visited a few years back. The building sat on the site of the Rosenwald school and may have been erected with bricks from the old building.

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