Efforts Underway To Revitalize Historic All Black Town In Wagoner County

Wednesday, April 13th 2022, 4:38 pm

RED BIRD, Oklahoma -

From the mid-19th Century to 1920, African Americans created more than 50 all Black towns and communities across Oklahoma. Today only 13 of those towns are still around. Red Bird, in Wagoner County, is one of them.

"It was happiness around here, it was laughter, and joy," said Delma Smith. 1903 marked the beginning of an Oklahoma town where Black people lived free from prejudice and racism -- from the fear typically found in racially mixed communities.

"You live in a place where you don't have to be afraid to walk out your door," said Smith. Red Bird was settled before 1903 by local Black people as well as Black people from other southern states. It's where Delma Smith was born, where she grew up and where she calls home.

"We would play Jacks, Ring around the Roses, we would play on the pole. There was lots of things to do and we liked it. We loved it," said Smith. With a population of less than 150 people, Red Bird looks different than it did during Smith's childhood. There are no businesses -- no signs of what once was.

"Red Bird was a thriving place once upon a time," said Smith. Elders said this town used to be filled with grocery stores, barber shops, juke joints and several other businesses that are gone now. But the people never left. They said they're still here and they're still growing.

"We'd like to get to the point where we're a self-sustaining community," said Darryl Moore. Darryl Moore is the Mayor in Red Bird. He, alone, is also responsible for the water and gas departments for residents.

Moore said the small population and location of Red Bird brings unique challenges for residents, but he's got plans to revitalize and bring back the glory of Red Bird. "Having a community garden. businesses going up and down the street. Lots more residents here, bigger playground, happy kids, that's all I want to see," said Mayor Moore.

Smith said she has nothing but good memories of Red Bird, and she wants the same for generations to come. "I'm happy when I see little children. Because, hey, that tells me we're still alive," said Smith. 

And that means the legacy still lives on and this town that was built on hope will now survive by the resilience of its people. "We're one of the historical Black towns of Oklahoma that's left. There's only 13 and we're one of that 13. But we're still alive. And that makes me happy." To learn more about Red Bird, click here.