BOLEY, Okla. (KFOR) – A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit highlighting rural America is making a stop in Oklahoma’s largest surviving all-Black communities, and it opens Saturday, May 14.
“Crossroads: Change in Rural America,” will be open to the public from May 14 through June 25 at the Boley Community Center, 11 West Grant Street, in Okfuskee County.
A special opening ceremony and ribbon cutting will be held Saturday, May 14 at 10 a.m.
“I want to commend the town of Boley and Project 2020, which is an effort to revitalize their downtown and fuel economic development in the community. This organization worked with Oklahoma Humanities to secure a grant for this Smithsonian exhibit,” said Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa. “I see this as just the beginning of a larger effort to highlight our Black communities in Oklahoma, and the historic part our state has played in the civil rights movement.”
The Smithsonian exhibit will look at the past, present and future of rural communities in Oklahoma, including Boley.
Matthews noted at one point, Oklahoma had more than 50 Black towns. Of the 13 that still survive, Boley is the largest.
Established in 1903, Boley became the blueprint for Black towns across the U.S.
In 1905, Booker T. Washington even declared Boley as “the most enterprising, and interesting of the Negro towns in the United States.”
Matthews said that history and culture will be celebrated with the opening of the exhibit.
“We want to showcase Black excellence in every aspect, including rodeo, art, music, and featuring impactful speakers,” Matthews said. “One of the highlights will be a video screening of an all-Black production of ‘Oklahoma!’ The public is invited, and we hope everyone will join us for this special grand opening.”
Matthews said he hopes highlighting Black history in Oklahoma will help sites like Boley, Tulsa’s Greenwood District, the Clara Luper Civil Rights Center planned for Oklahoma City and more gain national recognition via the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
“Events like this one in Boley can help us shine a spotlight on Oklahoma’s rich history, and help educate our own citizens, and those across the country, of its importance,” Matthews said.
The trail includes more than 100 locations in about 15 states and Washington D.C., but currently includes no locations in Oklahoma.
More information about the May 14 opening and the Smithsonian exhibit can be found on the Oklahoma Humanities website.