Segregated Rails: This historian keeps stark reminders of Jim Crow in the basement of his museum

Great State

ENID, Okla. (KFOR) – The signs pointed to where you were and who owned the rail cars.

There were warnings and rules, ads and advisories.

Frank ‘Watermelon’ Campbell collected those signs and more.

“I was born in 1921,” he says descending the basement stairs of his railroad museum. “The Bible says you can live to be 120. So I’m going for that.”

But in the basement of his Railroad Museum of Oklahoma, he has a few of the signs that you can’t see through the rose tinted lenses of fine dining car china and quaint, old depots.

Here are the stark reminders of Oklahoma’s segregated past.

“They had this over at Tulsa,” he says, holding a sign that pointed to designated water fountains for ‘white’ and ‘colored’. “They had this sign in the middle.”

He found the sign buried in a retired Tulsa roundhouse in 1960.

“I asked if I could have it,” he says. “And they said, ‘Yeah. We don’t use it anymore’.”

“Are these kinds of artifacts hard to find,” asks a visitor.

“They did away with most of them,” replies Campbell. “They went to the trash right away.”

These signs used to hang in every train station waiting room notifying the public of the state law passed in 1907 that segregated these spaces according to the color of people’s skin.

“They were part of the Jim Crow laws,” he says.

Campbell keeps them as reminders of true history.

“Why did you think this was important to save,” asks his visitor.

“Well, I’m a natural born collector,” he replies. “People need to know how it used to be.”

Of the more than a million artifacts in Campbell’s collection, the story of rail travel is well represented, the romantic and the true.

‘Watermelon’ believes it’s all worth saving.

“It’s what I do,” he says.

The Railroad Museum of Oklahoma is open Tuesday through Friday 1-4 p.m.

It’s open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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