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Boley open house kicks off efforts to get state’s historically Black communities on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail

OKLAHOMA CITY – Sen. Kevin Matthews is inviting Oklahomans to come visit the community of Boley this Saturday, Dec. 11, for tours and to hear details of the town’s plans to host a Smithsonian traveling exhibit next May promoting rural America.  Matthews, D-Tulsa, said the events are part of an effort to get Oklahoma’s surviving 13 all-Black communities on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

“As we worked in the Legislature to help make Greenwood Rising a reality, I realized that many people here in Oklahoma and across the country had little knowledge of the role Oklahoma has played in America’s civil rights movement,” Matthews said.  “We approved an appropriation this past session of $150,000 to help our historically all-Black communities secure grants and create public-private partnerships to preserve and document their histories and develop the infrastructure necessary to promote tourism within each of these towns.  Getting these communities included on the Civil Rights Trail would be a tremendous way to build on those efforts and tell Oklahoma’s story.”

With more than 100 locations in some 15 states and Washington D.C., the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, formalized in 2018, includes historically significant sites important to the movement for racial equality.  Currently the trail includes no locations in Oklahoma.

At one point, Oklahoma actually had more than 50 Black towns.  Thirteen still survive, and Boley, in Okfuskee County, is the largest. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, at one time Boley had a population of more than 4,000 and several businesses, including a newspaper, two banks, three cotton gins and two colleges, along with its own electrical generating plant, water system and ice plant.  The downtown business district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

Saturday’s open house will showcase a new visitors center, coffee shop and tiny cabins.  The event will take place on Main Street one block north of Highway 62, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Attendees will include the mayors of Oklahoma’s Black towns as well as other state officials, citizens and community and business leaders. Island Breeze, part of the Langston University Marching Pride Band, will perform.

“Boley is leading the way for other Black towns in our state, helping demonstrate how they have drawn on their history as they promote tourism and economic development within their community,” Matthews said.  “This event is part of our larger goal of including all our Black towns on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail with a route that would start at Greenwood Rising and continue through these towns all the way to the Clara Luper Civil Rights Center planned for Oklahoma City.  The story of our Black communities is an important part of Oklahoma’s story, and I invite everyone to come be a part of this event.” 

For more information, contact Sen. Kevin Matthews at 918-955-2283, or email