Langston, OK

McCabe in 1887 (Simmons, William J., and Henry McNeal Turner. Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising. GM Rewell & Company, 1887. p1056-1057).

The township of Langston, Oklahoma was founded by the All-Black Town booster E.P. McCabe on October 22, 1890 in Oklahoma Territory. Named after the Black educator and representative of Virginia, John Mercer Langston, the town attracted many Southern expatriates fleeing the racial terror of Jim Crow. A spirit of cooperation filled the town as new residents collectively cultivated eighty acres of land to feed everyone during the first year. They formed their own volunteer fire brigade and even worked together to build a bridge when the county refused to do so. By 1892 Langston boasted 600 residents, a common school, its own newspaper, churches, grocery stores, barber shops, and more. Over the next three years Langston built more grocery stores, restaurants, an ice cream parlor, various factories, an opera house, a bank, hotels, and a telephone line. The young township blossomed.

John Mercer Langston
Langston University in 1910 (20607, Fred Wenner Collection, OHS).

While the territory’s white population had access to a college education in their sundown towns, educational opportunities for Black people in Oklahoma Territory were scarce, especially for secondary and higher education. Black citizens, motivated to create a better future for their children, petitioned the territory to create an institution of higher learning for Black citizens, resulting in the creation of the Colored Agricultural and Normal University in 1897, the farthest West of all historically Black colleges and universities. Now known as Langston University, the school gave Black students the opportunity to get a high school and college education. Fifty years later, a graduate of the Langston University, Ms. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, would make history after a tumultuous legal battle to desegregate the University of Oklahoma, which resulted in a bill that allowed Black students to go to graduate school at OU and OSU.

Ms. Fisher’s first day at OU Law School, June 18, 1948.

I imagine what made Langston, OK stand out from other All-Black towns was Langston University, the only remaining HBCU in Oklahoma. However, the presence of the university, while creating more opportunity for many, also created tension in the town between the “college group” and the “village group”. While the population of the town has ebbed and flowed over the years, I believe the town owes its long-term survival due to the presence of the university. Today Langston is the largest remaining all-Black town in Oklahoma, with a population of over 1,700, the largest its ever been.

Langston University in 2020.

Hamilton, Kenneth M. “The Origin and Early Developments of Langston, Oklahoma.” The Journal of Negro History 62, no. 3 (1977): 270–82.
Johnson, Hannibal B. Acres of Aspiration: The All-Black Towns in Oklahoma. Eakin Press, 2002.

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