The Town that Freedom built
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.

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.
The Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, erected in 1919, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mary and Lee Tatum, the founders of their namesake town. Click on the picture to see a tribute to the couple's accomplishments.
(Photo from
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. To read the entire special
edition, click to the
Library of Congress - Chronicling America.
Julius Rosenwald, an executive at Sears Roebuck and a supporter of Booker T. Washington's philosophy, originated the philanthropic foundation
to help black communities build school houses and libraries. Thousands of schools were built with
Rosenwald funds throughout the American
South. (Fisk University)
A remnant from the boarding house, owned by sisters Mary Manning and Viola Springer, where Pretty Boyd Floyd once overnighted. The "wayside
hotel" housed both blacks and whites and also offered meals - it was, according to locals, a cozy and very inviting place.
Varner's grocery and meat market is closed for business; there aren't any retail establishments left in town at all anymore, actually. Most days,
Tatums is simply a sleepy village, but it becomes very active on Sundays, when families gather for church services.
Tatum's 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.
Lovely old home, slightly the worse for wear, in Tatums.
Looking to go on a roadtrip to Tatums? I don't blame you. It's just northwest of Ardmore on
OK 7. Here's a map to guide you there. By the way, make sure to stop by Tatums' cemetery
on the west side of town, too - lots of fantastic tombstone tributes!
Questions or comments? E-mail me:
In the 1920s, the citizens of Tatums built two sturdy school buildings using funds from the county and from the Rosenwald Foundation.(OHS)
How to get there
History among the Ghosts: Abandoned Places along the Red River Valley."
Find your copy on
Amazon or through Red River Historian Press!