Most people equate Oklahoma with 'Native America.' The state's home to the biggest Native American population in the US, its name is Choctaw for 'red people,' and long after most of its neighbors were US states, 'Oklahoma' was known as Indian Territory.
But that's not the full story.
In the early 20th century, Oklahoma became something of a 'promised land' for former slaves and children of slaves, who came and settled over 40 African-American towns. None were more booming and successful than Boley – off I-40, and not far from Woody Guthrie's birthplace of Okemah. Founded in 1903, it soon had its own schools, newspapers, hospitals. Booker T Washington visited in 1905, later calling it the 'most enterprising' and 'interesting' of African-American towns nationwide.
I grew up in Oklahoma, and can testify that this side of history didn't exactly make the Tulsa Public Schools curriculum. 'It's been wiped out of the history books,' Boley Historical Museum director Henrietta Hicks told me. 'But we're just like anywhere else. We have pride, we have purpose, we have a plan.'
Funding is minimal for the historical society's small museum and assorted sites around town, including the bank where members of Pretty Boy Floyd's outlaw gang tried to rob in 1932 (the town came to the bank's rescue – no outlaws escaped). But you can call +1-918-667-9790 to arrange tours.
The best time to come, by far, is during the three-day Boley Memorial Day Rodeo, held the last Monday in May and featuring a Saturday parade and three nights of rodeo (and local Linda Sykes' home-grown 'potato on a stick'). 'There are other black rodeos,' one organizer told me. 'But this right here is the granddaddy of them all.'