Historic Film Of Black Oklahomans Found

Friday, February 27th 2009, 10:58 pm
By: News On 6

By Terry Hood, The News on 6

TULSA, OK -- An Oklahoma treasure-hunter has discovered dozens of film reels documenting everyday life in Black Oklahoma, from a time when few Americans of any color could afford cameras.

The chronicle in black-and-white sold at auction for $60,000.

Even in silence, musicians marching through Muskogee and the rest of the footage found by historian Currie Ballard speak volumes about Oklahoma's past.

"I've been in this business almost 30 years, and I've never seen anything like this," Ballard said.

From the Langston graduating class of 1925 to kids playing outside a country church, every frame of footage documents the lives of black Oklahomans in the years after the deadly Tulsa Race Riot.

"I know of no other early film footage ... four years after that nightmare Race Riot of 1921," Ballard said. "I don't know of anything else that exists as far as motion pictures."

Ballard says the movies are a testament to the resilience of Oklahoma's black communities.

In town after town, the photographer found black families thriving, even some bringing in thousands of dollars a day with their own oil wells.

"And it shows these Dusenburgs and Cadillacs, all these fine automobiles that black people were driving," Ballard said.

Twenty-nine reels were stashed away in someone's attic, and Ballard says he immediately recognized how priceless the footage was.

"The difficulty was coming up with the money," he said.

Ballard bought the whole collection. The Smithsonian Museum, Harvard and Yale were calling to buy it from him.

But he says it's important the images of black farmers and businessmen stay in Oklahoma.

Ballard says the most precious pictures are proud people sitting on their porches and other forgotten faces from the past, a silent reminder of an unspoken part of Oklahoma history.

The footage features life in Oklahoma, but also crosses the country from California to New York City and even has scenes from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

An Ivy League school purchased the films, but the university doesn't want to be identified.