Preserving A Bit Of Oklahoma's History

Tuesday, February 20th 2007, 10:00 am
By: News On 6

It's a part of Oklahoma history in danger of being lost forever, forgotten like the names of the children who are buried there in unmarked graves. It's a spot behind what used to be a home for deaf, blind and orphaned kids in the town of Taft. The News on 6’s Heather Lewin spoke with the women fighting to keep the children’s memories alive.

Like most everywhere in the 1930's times were tough in Taft, a town founded by black freedmen trying to carve out something of their own.

"I had three aunts that was at DB&O and they was given up in early childhood because there was so many in the family," said Cassandra Gaines.

The word orphanage often conjures up negative images, but Gaines says her aunts were happy, made it their home, and stayed in touch with other DB&O kids years later.

"My aunt told me they didn't have any complaints, it was like one big family," Gaines said.

They weren't buried in the orphanages cemetery, but they played with children who were, children who died with no family to claim them, laid to rest in a small corner of a pasture, without any markers bearing their names. It’s something that just didn’t seem right to Muskogee mayor Wren Stratton.

"It was just that moment of realizing that there were souls that walked the earth and there's nothing to remember them by," Stratton said. "Right now, luckily, there's still DB&O graduates and folks who played with DB&O kids who remember and can share those memories."

But when those people are gone, without a marker, no one will remember why a little section of field is fenced off.

"It'll just be a part of a pasture and that piece of our history will be lost," Stratton said.

That's why Stratton is leading the effort for a memorial marker. She says it doesn't have to be anything fancy, just something to show they were here and they mattered.

"Celebrate a hundred years later that we haven't forgotten that they lived," she said.

The Taft orphanage housed more than 300 African-American children in the mid-30s. It closed down in the early '60s, now the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center sits on the site.