One of the long forgotten stories of African American history (and there are many yet untold) was the effort to create an all-black state after the Civil War. Yes, let me repeat that again. There was actually an effort made to establish an all black state in this country after the Civil War. One has to wonder how radically different this country would have been if those plans had succeeded.
The plan was to establish all black towns in the part of the country we now know as the state of Oklahoma. Some 60 all-black towns in that area were founded, but only about 12 or so remain today; and not surprisingly, all of them are finding it harder and harder to thrive.
This fascinating, long forgotten and overlooked story is the subject of filmmaker Kari Barber’s new documentary currently in post-production, “Struggle and Hope”. A native of Oklahoma herself, and currently a journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, she is also a filmmaker, having worked on documentaries for PBS’ “Frontline.”
Though she grew up in Oklahoma, Barber had never heard about these towns or their history until they were mentioned in a program for a production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!”. That sparked her interest, leading her to research the towns and eventually to make her film.
She says that the documentary will hopefully raise awareness of these towns: “Towns have lost schools and other businesses due to a lack of resources – resources they once had in abundance… [and will] further highlight the resilience of the African and Native Americans when faced with what appears to be a no-win situation.”
She further adds that, in the film, locals will “share their hopes – preserving their history, revitalizing their towns etc. – and fears – being lost in history, having to leave to large towns, losing what made their towns magical in the first place,” as each relate stories of “juke joints, schools, teachers and racial unity,” linking the past to the present, as the towns face dwindling populations and abandoned schools; all in an effort to fight to bring back what made the towns of great importance.
In other words, a film definitely to be on the lookout for.
It has its own YouTube channel which features clips from the film (here), like the one below.