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Great State: Settling Wynnewood’s Black History

WYNNEWOOD, OKLAHOMA — The TV was on loud and proud inside the home of Jewel Washington on Inauguration Day.

There were other items on her to do list but she stopped long enough to observe history with her grandson Jokori Taylor.

“I want to watch this,” said the 87 year old Jewel.

The Reverend Taylor is one of Jewel’s 27 grandkids from 9 children, but he is perhaps the most interested in the unique history of Wynnewood’s black community.

“He’s too smart for me,” laughs Jewel. “But I’m so proud of him because he’s working so hard.”

“I had a really good start,” says Jokori of his grandmother, “because it led me to other older people.”

He moved back to his hometown a few years ago, his curiosity leading him on a path deeper than the history of Wynnewood itself, to a community called Hopewell.

It was founded by freed slaves of Indian tribes who settled on government allotments in the 1860’s.

Taylor began putting names to the old pictures he found.

He spoke with settlers’ descendants, now scattered across the state.

“To know where we came from,” he said. “Everyone comes from someone else.”

Jokori gathered Hopewell’s history in a room on the 2nd floor of the old Eskridge Hotel in Wynnewood.

Information that included his great, great grandmother Susie Smith, Missy Hennessey, one of the community’s first midwives, and Dr. Marian Clark, who treated both black and white in town for decades.

The old Hopewell Church is gone. The old segregated Lincoln School is just a foundation now.

But Taylor still has a Hopewell cemetary ledger, pictures of the first segregated school superintendent and the last, and a growing list of stories.

“Even if you just know the names of where you came from, or have one line of information, it means a lot.”

The Eskridge has been turned into a museum.

When it was last a hotel in the 50’s his grandmother wouldn’t have been allowed a room here.

But on that second floor, the stories of Hopewell now spring eternal.

“It’s not for right now,” he said. “It’s for tomorrow when the next generation comes along.”

The Hopewell room in the Eskridge Museum will be opened officially on February 3, 2013.