[Narrator 1:] The town of Boley Oklahoma may just be the only town in the country that started as a personal wager, a bet between two white men, as to whether black people could and should be able to govern themselves. What started as a gamble became a fact, a town that endures to this day. Boley, an image from Oklahoma's past, and a story for today.
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[Narrator 2:] They came to Oklahoma from many nations. Newcomers to a new land, looking for better opportunities, a chance to begin again and what remains is their heritage. A rich heritage, that has become the Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 1:] At the close of the Civil War, the Indian Territory became the last stop for many people the government just didn't seem to know what to do with. Not only Indians but immigrants from Europe who found the east coast too crowded and offering no jobs. For the blacks though, the Indian Territory was presented as a kind of utopia. There were even grand plans to make part of Indian Territory a black state. After the whippings, lynchings and discrimination that followed blacks through the south the promises of the Indian Territory must have seemed more than they could have hoped for.
[Narrator 1:] The lure of west was, for them, the dream of freedom. Freedom from racial discrimination. But, as for all minorities, that dream was not easily won. To the whites living in Indian Territory, black immigration was not welcome and talk of a black state was frightening. Great debates argued the pros and cons of self government for blacks. Some felt that blacks had neither the background nor inclination to govern themselves. Others felt that blacks had never been given a chance and it was this debate that gave birth to Boley, Oklahoma.
[Narrator 1:] One spring day, a number of gentlemen were discussing this issue, when a Captain Boley brought the debate from an abstract argument to reality.
[Captain Boley:] I say to you gentlemen, there is one way and one way only to determine the answer to this question. So, I make this proposal, let us create a town. A town for blacks, governed by blacks, responsible for their own well being, for their own future.
[Narrator 1:] Captain Boley's proposal was made in the form of a wager. A wager accepted by the other gentlemen. To test Boley's theory, in August of 1903, 72 miles east of Guthrie, a town for blacks was created and named after the captain.
[Narrator 1:] In the beginning, things looked good for Boley. Soon more than 30 black communities sprang up in the territory. But Boley remained the largest, a bustling, thriving community that earned the praise of black leaders everywhere.
[Narrator 1:] But through the years, Boley was to suffer the same plight as small towns across the state. With an economy based on farming, crop failure several years in a row spelled disaster. Then, came the Great Depression and, like so many other communities, Boley was cut down before it had a chance. As industry began to grow in the larger cities, Boley's young people left in search of a brighter future.
[Narrator 1:] How is Boley today? Well, the dream has faded. And the town that once bustled with mule drawn wagons laden with bales of cotton, now sits on a hill screened by briar bushes and catalpa trees. Today Boley is populated mostly by the middle aged and elderly. It moves at a drowsy pace. Main Street is marked by abandoned buildings that once housed flourishing businesses. But Boley is no ghost town. It has survived. Boley, Oklahoma has been declared a national landmark in Afro-American history by the National Register of Historic Places. The citation reads, "Boley, began in an era of black oppression and segregation, is a symbol of the sacrifices and efforts of its early pioneers to demonstrate the ability of black men to govern themselves".
[Narrator 1:] Possibly Boley is an anachronism, but needed at a time when a desperate people sought freedom and security, an image from Oklahoma's past.
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[Narrator 2:] This program was produced by the Oklahoma Image Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and brought to you as a public service by this station.
[Narrator 1:] Oklahoma Image is sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association.
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Part of the Oklahoma Image Statewide Humanities Project, Promoting Newcomers to a New Land book series.
Copyright of this digital resource, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 2009. For further information regarding use please consult the Rights and Permissions page, http://www.crossroads.odl.state.ok.us/shell/rights.php or contact the holding institution of the digital resource.
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