Saturday, April 10, 2021

Dovey Costner--Being Black in the Carolinas, Texas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma

 This is still rough. I am so upset by the parallels to the present behavior of Republicans toward Blacks that I have rushed it a little. And the first paragraph went into italics as I posted this.

copyright 2021 by Hershel Parker


Dovey Costner--Being Black in the Carolinas, Texas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma          

The Smithsonian Magazine for April 2021 features Tim Madigan’s article on the Tulsa Massacre of June 1921, that “murderous attack on the most prosperous black community in the nation.” Preceding this in the Smithsonian is Victor Luckerson’s “The Promise of Oklahoma” on the last-ditch attempt of “eleven black leaders” in 1907 to prevent “Indian Territory” and “Oklahoma Territory” from becoming the state of Oklahoma. They and other blacks had hoped for a different result--perhaps (a wild hope) even a Negro Oklahoma. Their reasoning was that once Oklahoma was a state the white majority would enforce segregation and voter suppression just as in the Deep South. They were, of course, right. A “Grandfather Clause” went into effect in 1910 to allow illiterate men to vote if they could prove their grandfathers had voted before 1866. Illiterate blacks would be excluded.

           That ugly year 1910 and especially 1911 were familiar to me from documents I had been encountering on Dovey Costner and other Black Costners in Bryan County, Oklahoma. The Tulsa World on 6 September 1911 ran two headlines: “OKLAHOMA DON’T LOOK GOOD. Will Lead Colony of Blacks to the Negro Republics.” From a Denison, Texas article of the day before the World explained: “Because he believes that under present conditions it is impossible for the negro to prosper in Southern Oklahoma since the recent race troubles there Stover Costner, a negro farmer has announced that he will head a band of fifty negroes in an expedition to colonize in Liberia. Costner says he has found fifty negroes in Bryan County who are willing to go with him.” The papers were careless. There was no “Stover Costner” but the man was real, Dovie Costner (although identified elsewhere as Dovie Costanar, Davie Costun), a man who interested me very strongly. Who were these outspoken Black Costners in Indian Territory and then Oklahoma at the same time my White Costners were in Oklahoma Territory and Oklahoma?

           I was a Depression Okie who knew nothing at all about my ancestry beyond two tiny anecdotes about two great grandfathers, Parker and Bell. Beginning in 1960 I had done dogged, meticulous research on Herman Melville and other writers, but a decade into the twenty-first century, well after the second volume of my biography and other volumes on Melville were published, I turned to the Internet now and then to see if I could find anything at all beyond the two anecdotes. I saved 1911 articles on Dovey Costner when I saw them partly because of the daring aspiration to colonize Liberia but more because my mother was a Costner, born in Oklahoma Territory in 1906. I wanted to find out more, when I had time. I had already learned that my Great Grandfather John Andrew Jackson Costner, born in 1832 in South Carolina, had moved west to Mississippi, where he died in 1892. Two of his sons, Moses Amariah (1870) and Gene (1872), both born in Mississippi, as young men homesteaded near Guymon in the Panhandle of Oklahoma Territory. When my mother, Martha Costner, was a few years old, Gene (Edgar Lugene) proved his homestead moved his family back to Mississippi for a time. Moses (“Uncle Mode”) stayed. His grandchildren, now all dead, were my second cousins. You can glimpse one of them, Bill Costner, toward the end of Ron Shelton’s Tin Cup, which stars his son, the actor Kevin Costner. All my folks except my Uncle Andrew Costner (1913-2001) lost contact with Uncle Mode’s family after 1930. As you will see, the name “Moses Costner” created some confusion in my research for this chapter, for that was the name of Dovey’s father.

           Well before I began collecting documents on Dovey, I knew that the American Costners had arrived from Germany in the mid 1700s and settled in south central Pennsylvania. This was unnervingly close to where I had lived for two decades, for I could have stood by their tombs in York. Some Costners soon took the Great Wagon Road to south central North Carolina near Charlotte. Eventually I learned that a Costner uncle, Jacob, and a startling array of other kinfolks and their neighbors had signed a seditious pact there, an “association,” in 1775. On the document were the names of Uncle John Dellinger, a brother of Jacob’s brother Peter Costner’s wife, another Dellinger, George, along with Uncle Jonathan Price, the husband of Aunt Betsy Ewart, a daughter of the Salisbury Committee of Safety member Robert Ewart who was twice my five-great grandfather. Others of the signers were kin or connected. The pact was misunderstood and miscopied when the document was discovered in the nineteenth century. Now the document was known, but wrongly spliced up in the photographs on the Internet, labeled with a modern name, “Tryon Resolves,” and seldom read carefully. Even descendants of the signers seemed oblivious to its importance. Tracing my kinfolks among the signers led to my writing a dozen articles on Revolutionary history, starting with one on the Tryon patriots and their pact.

           The neglected Tryon County patriots had been eloquent: “The unprecedented, barbarous & bloody actions Committed by the British Troops on our American Brethren near Boston, on the 19th of April & 20th of May last together with the Hostile opperations & Traiterous Designs now Carrying on by the Tools of Ministerial Vengeance & Despotism for the Subjugating all British America, Sugest to us the painful Necessity of having recourse to Arms, for the preservation of those Rights & Liberties which the principles of our Constitution and the Laws of God Nature & nations have made it our Duty to Defend.” These men knew they could have been hanged, but in North Carolina their fervent  sympathy for their fellow colonists embattled near Boston overcame any fears. By contrast, New Englanders for two and a half centuries have ignored or downplayed any role North Carolina may have had in the Revolution. My cousin David Dellinger, portrayed in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) descended from a signer of this Association, in his autobiography described visiting kindly, simple, unimportant farmers in North Carolina even while he celebrated his descent from one or more heroic ancestors in Boston, “the ‘Athens of America’ and the ‘Hub of the Universe.’”

           I was a writer. I had done nineteenth century biographical research. In fact, I had worked from primary documents more than many published historians had. I could do history.  On 14 August 2014 my 11-page “The Tryon County Patriots of 1775 and their ‘Association’” was published in the webzine Journal of the American Revolution. The editors, Todd Andrik, Don N. Hagist, and Hugh T. Harrington, selected it among ones reprinted in June 2015 in the hardback Journal of the American Revolution: Annual Volume 2015, (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2015), 63-72. The essay was political history, but also family history, and a history of how that area of North Carolina lost sight of the significance of the brave pact. The descendants of Christian Mauney, into whose little house the signers had crowded, had begun hosting annual reunions without knowing the historic importance of what had happened there in 1775. Recognizing my article’s local value for Gaston County, the historian Robert C. Carpenter gained permission to reprint an expanded version in the Gaston-Lincoln Genealogical Society’s Footprints in Time (December 2014), 154-174. (Tryon, the name of a banished British governor, had been removed from the county, and county (and state) lines had been changed.) Over the next years many descendants of signers (including several cousins previously unknown to me) came across the article in the Journal of the American Revolution and posted grateful comments. Local people saw it in Footprints in Time. What makes me most happy is that my article has become a mainstay in annual meetings to celebrate the bravery of local men in 1775. It’s part of every Mauney reunion in Cherryville.

           By 2014 Robert C. Carpenter was already preparing a unique book, Gaston County, North Carolina, in the Civil War (Jefferson, N. C.: McFarland, 2016). His concentration on one locality stand with the statewide survey in Barton A. Myers’s Rebels Against the Confederacy: North Carolina’s Unionists (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014). These books have opened the topic, and give context to a chapter of my next book, Racial Encounters, in which one chapter deals with cousins who during the War dared to chair open Union Meetings in North Carolina. Meanwhile, I have gained access to Carpenter as a resource person.

           Once I looked, I found right away that Dovey Costner was, no surprise, born in Gastonia, Gaston County, and he was born a decade and a half after slavery ended (which was not in 1863 but for practical purposes in mid-1865, at the end of the war). But who was he? In his book on Gaston County, Carpenter does not name Dovey Costner, but he describes the intimate relation between one family of black slaves and their Costner owners. My cousin Jacob Costner (not the Revolutionary patriot) who died in 1862 left a will so unclear that his slave Randal Costner was much perplexed and downright panicked for fear he could be sold away from his wife and family. Jacob’s sons, including Ambrose, who later was a prominent politician, did not take charge of Randal, but Jacob’s son-in-law did, William G. Morris, then serving in the Confederate army. In his absence Morris entrusted Randal with running his farm. In letters to his wife he regularly sent greetings and even his “love” to Randal and his family. This was in many ways a trusting relationship: who else sent love to a slave family? Morris tried to reassure Randal that if he had to be sold he (Morris) would buy him to keep him home--but (Randal must have worried) what if Morris died in battle or from disease? Carpenter’s treatment of Costner slaves was fascinating to me although it seemed to do nothing to help me identify Dovey.

           I found in a Reconstruction era newspaper that a remarkable brave 4th of July celebration had been held by Blacks in Gaston County in 1867, the Secretary being Moses Costner, presumably a man who could read and write. When I approached Carpenter about this Moses he provided me with the 1885 administrator’s papers for Randal Costner’s estate. They showed that most of the children were still nearby in 1885, but that Randal’s son Moses, the North Carolina family thought, lived “in Texas.” I still don’t know whether or not the 1867 Secretary was Randal’s son; censuses vary on whether or not he was illiterate. At least in the course of my querying I met the part-black Randy Thomason, whose wife and children are cousins of mine, descendants of one of my White second cousin Simon Peter Costner’s “colored” children acknowledged in his will.) Randal’s son Moses (or Mose) was living, in fact, in Grimes County, Texas, near several of his children and grandchildren.

           From censuses I then found that Dovey was a son of this Moses, a grandson of Randal’s. Dovey’s tombstone in Okmulgee, Oklahoma (not Liberia), gives his birth as 16 February 1879 and his death day as 24 August 1963. The 1963 date is presumably accurate, but most of his life Dovey assumed he was born earlier than he was, about 1877. 1879 was right, and he may have been told and remembered 16 February. However, the census taker in Bethel Township of York County, South Carolina, just across the state border, on 11 June 1880 listed Dovey as 8/12 of a year old, and specifies that he was born in November 1879, in North Carolina--Gastonia. Census takers make errors, but 1879-1963 are right. Some time in the previous several months before June 1880, Moses had moved over the border into Bethel, where he was a “croper”--presumably pronounced not “crowper” but as in “sharecropper.” His wife Ann (40), and his first two sons, 13 year old William and 11 year old John, were all three listed as “laborers.” That was nothing unusual: in the 1920 census for Guymon, Oklahoma, my 14 year old mother is listed as “farm laborer.” For that matter, at 9 I was being hauled out on a flatbed truck in a gang to pick fruit all day. Moses’s boys were, of course, not in school, Black education having not been a permanent post-Reconstruction benefit. Prospects for Black sharecroppers were bleak, even with four people laboring. White sharecroppers were lucky to pay the owner back for his exorbitant supplies before they could keep any of their earnings for themselves. For Blacks, sharecropping was slavery with a nicer name. (For Whites it was not much better, and lien laws passed in the early 1900s made it worse than ever.)

         So Moses Costner, son of Randal, made a big gamble sometime in the next years after 1880. Well before 1885, when Randal died, Moses had taken his large family to Texas, to Grimes County, surely by one or more wagons. (Gene Costner took his family from Mississippi to Oklahoma as late as 1915 or so in wagons “covered” somehow--maybe not just what we think of as “covered wagons”--pausing for harvest work along the way in Arkansas.) Moses must have had his reasons, but for a Black family this was about the worst spot in Texas to have gone. In the online “Texas History Now” Charles Christopher Jackson tells a somber story that Wikipedia picked up and quotes. Americans brought slaves with them before Texas won its independence, and Grimes county’s “slave population continued to increase at an astonishing rate during the last decade of antebellum Texas, as a result not only of purchases by current residents but also of continuing heavy migration of slaveholders from the lower South.” By 1860 Grimes had more slaves than whites. In the lawlessness that followed the war there was violence, “Whites against Whites, Blacks against Blacks, Blacks against Whites,” but the most violent crimes were by Whites against Blacks. In 1867, Jackson says, twenty nine instances of White violence against Blacks were reported--and of course many were not reported. He summarizes: “As the anarchy deepened, armed bands of Whites meted out vigilante justice; the Ku Klux Klan emerged in the county at Navasota in April 1868. In self-defense, local Blacks formed their own ‘militias.’ The secret activities of the county’s Loyal Leagues” (or Union League) “organized among the freedmen by Republicans as an agency of political indoctrination, inflamed White fears of Black conspiracies against White lives and property.”

           When Moses and his family arrived in Grimes County in the early 1880s, “an interracial Republican-Greenback coalition” had “succeeded in electing candidates to a number of county offices.” This meant that for a time there was support for Black schools, but what followed was a vicious resurrection of the KKK. This was no place for a son and grandchildren of Randal Costner to be trying to make an adequate living. Jackson says: “After smashing victories by the People’s party in the county elections of 1896 and 1898, Grimes County Democrats retaliated by forming the White Man’s Union . . . an initially secret, oath-bound society designed to end electoral ‘corruption’ by excluding Blacks from participation in county politics.” (In 2021 a new Georgia law used precisely the same strategy about voting.) Then came “a campaign of night-riding and intimidation” of Black voters and any White sympathizers, and murders. Jackson is blunt: with terrorized Blacks avoiding the polls, “the White Man’s Union swept the elections of 1900, and Blacks began a mass migration from the county.”

           “Negro Firebug Lynched . . . .“Some two weeks ago a negro was lynched in Grimes county.” 26 July 1899 Baltimore Sun.-----“Four Killed in Fierce Race Riot” . . . . “As soon as the whites got possession of the negro they lynched him by hanging him to a scrub oak tree” 26 July 1899 Philadelphia Inquirer.-----“Judge Lynch Has Been Very Active This Year.” 22 December 1908, the Bisbee, Arizona Review.-----Texas ranked in top three states for number of lynchings, two in Grimes County. There were nine officially recorded lynchings in Grimes in the decade, regular affairs.

           Back a bit: That “local White Populist sheriff,” Jackson says, “wounded by an armed mob on the streets of Anderson, was evacuated to Houston by an escort of state militia.” He does not explain the circumstances, and the newspapers casually repeated the official cleaned-up version of events. On 14 November 1900 the Reynoldsville, PA, Star printed this: “Too Hot for the Sheriff.” “Sheriff Scott, of Grimes county, Texas, has consented to abdicate his office and seek a new career elsewhere. He failed to please an organization known as the White Man’s Union in his administration of the office and a controversy ensued which culminated last week in a shooting affray. In this the sheriff was wounded, his brother and William McDonald were killed, as was also John Bradley, Jr.” Dozens of newspapers--such as the Kansas City, Missouri Times, the Guthrie Oklahoma State Capitol, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the San Francisco Examiner,  reprinted a version of the story that glossed over the White Men’s Union and claimed that all controversy was over. The Union had held Sheriff Scott responsible “for alleged misconduct of affairs.” As the Los Angeles Times said on November 11, “Texas Troops Settle Feud. Trouble Over Election at Anderson Ended. Sheriff to Leave the Country.” “Alleged misconduct of affairs” was whitewash. Scott had tried to protect rights of Negroes and therefore committed “misconduct of affairs.” The St. Louis Globe-Democrat on 23 February 1902 reported: “Scott has a suit for $100,000 against the citizens of Grimes county for forcing him to leave the county.

          By the 1890s or 1900 Whites in Grimes county, the prouder ones, descendants of settlers in Mexican Texas, had decided that they no longer wanted to be outnumbered by Blacks, now that Blacks had been free so long. One solution was to drive them out of the county. Simon Curtis tried to fight back. The Lenoir, North Carolina News on 6 February 1903 reported: “Negro Sues for Banishment. During the past year a large number of negroes have been driven out of Grimes county in eastern Texas by an organization calling themselves the White Men’s Union. All negroes free to emigrate have done so. Among them was Simon Curtis, who moved to Houston Centre, and who has filed in the United States Court at Houston suit for $40,000 damages against the white men who compelled him to leave his home in Grimes. It is the first suit of the kind ever brought in Texas, and is likely to affect the movement prevailing in many of the eastern Texas counties to get rid of the negroes.” The dust settled fast, and on 3 August 1904 the Lincoln, Nebraska State Journal reported that at the Democratic state convention in Houston the “white men’s union delegation from Grimes county was seated.” At some point in all this ugliness Moses Costner, his children, and his grandchildren sought refuge in Bryant County in Indian Territory or Oklahoma (a state as of September 1907). They had been “driven out of Grimes county,” even if no Whites had threatened them personally. If the Bennington, Oklahoma Tribune of 8 September 1911 is accurate, Dovey told a reporter for the Denison Texas Herald that week that he had rented part of "the old Colvert farm at Riverside for the past several years and has lived on or near that place for ten years." That would put the move to Indian Territory at 1900 or 1911, during the great flight from Grimes County.

           I have emphasized Jackson’s honest depiction of Grimes County in my attempt to understand why Dovey in 1911 so earnestly thought Liberia would be safer than Oklahoma. What went on in Grimes County through the first decade of the nineteenth century was horrific: “The violence unleashed against Populists during the election of 1900 proved difficult to contain. Years of prolonged vigilantism and lawlessness in the early 1900s earned Grimes County a ‘rough’ reputation which was only enhanced by the local reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. In 1908 Navasota hired noted Texas Ranger Frank Hamer as its sheriff in an effort to ‘clean up’ the town.” The Black Costners were already gone before Frank Hamer got there. In the splendid 2019 film The Highwaymen Hamer is portrayed by a White Costner (aside from a little Indian), my second cousin’s son, Kevin.

           By 1910 the Black Moses at 78 was in Bryan County, Oklahoma, renting a house alone. Ann was alive at 76 years old, living nearby with James (listed as 38), and two Lipscomb nephews. John was there at 41 with wife and eight children. William at 42 was there at 42 along with his wife and four children, the son at 12 named significantly, Sherman. Dovey was there at 33 with his wife, daughter, and a middle-aged Daniel nephew and niece. They were all living close together. They were renting. What had drawn them there?

            Almost any place would have seemed safer than Grimes Count, but they may have heard cheering news from north of the Red River. As late as the middle of 1907 some had irrational hopes that Oklahoma could be a Negro state, and there were already a few “negro towns” in Indian Territory to celebrate.

           Despite a few encouraging notices, many events had been ominous since the 1880s and 1890s. Lynching was common in parts of what became Oklahoma, the victims being mainly Whites, especially cattle rustlers, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. After statehood, “lynching entered a more racist phase. The numbers actually declined, but the victims were almost exclusively black. In this period lynching reinforced an existing social order that deprived blacks of political and economic rights and segregated them. The state constitution enshrined Jim Crow, and forty-one persons were lynched by 1930. Most of these incidents occurred from 1908 to 1916. Murder, complicity in murder, rape, and attempted rape became the main offenses, attributed primarily to black males accused of assaulting whites.”

           When the Black Costners arrived from Grimes County, the Choctaw and Cherokee lands were no longer safe for Indians or blacks, and education for Blacks was threatened. “White Citizens Protest,” said the 6 March 1903 Guthrie Oklahoma State Capital: “The white children of Indian Territory, except in the towns, are practically without schools, a prey to ignorance and its vices. . . . Unless there is a change these white children will become the laborers for the Indian and negro land owners; the superior Anglo-Saxon will be dominated by an inferior race, and a condition of servitude imposed that will be repugnant to every white man in the country. The Indian and negro citizens of Indian Territory are not entitled to our exclusive sympathy. Are the interests of 80,000 Indians and negro freedmen to be placed above the welfare of 300,00 white men, women and children?”

           Statehood loosed White vultures to prey especially on those less than full-blooded Indians. Suddenly, after the new law in 1908, part-Whites were allowed to sell their land. Now negro land owners could sell their farms to white “grafters.” The Ada OK News, 30 July 1908 said, “Negroes Begun to Sell. Will not be Long Untill Their Homesteads are Gone.” In Muskogee Times: “At the office of the register of deeds 140 instruments had been recorded up to 4 o’clock and it is expected that by the time the office closes yesterday’s record of 180 will be reached. All the land grafters were busy today and as the negroes were sadly in need of funds they are getting the land at their at their own price. Some of the negroes who claim to have been victimized were in an ugly humor today and were threatening to start trouble. It is expected that before the week not les than 1,500 negroes will have disposed of their homesteads and have moved to Muskogee or left the state. The negro farmer will soon be a thing of the past in this part of the country.” On 28 July 1908 the Salina, Kansas Journal announced: “They Are Prisoners. Indian and Negro Land Owners Held by Whites.” On 31 July 1908 the Vinita Chieftain announced “Negroes unloading farms”--land grafters were ripping them off.

           Coincidentally, or perhaps reflecting the changing climate, the first lynching in the state of Oklahoma came in January 1908. [or Dec 1907?] The Bryant County Bennington Tribune recorded it. On 10 May1907 the Oklahoma City Times-Journal proclaimed: “Charged with Murder,” “Six Men Alleged to Have Helped Lynch James Williams at Terrett” (that is, “Sterrett”). These men were arrested at Durant and Sterrett, I. T., and brought to South McAlester for grand jury. All were “prominent business men.”

            “The negro, James Williams, who was lynched at Sterrett, had been arrested on a charge of assaulting Rosa Misner, a fourteen year old girl, near Colbert. The mob took possession of a train at Colbert, went to Sterrett, where deputy marshals were waiting to transfer their prisoners to Durant, overpowered the officers and hanged the negro to an oil derrick.”

           The prominent White businessmen were not punished: “In the case of Jim Hudson, growing out of the lynching of a negro in Sterrett, the jury returned with a verdict of not guilty. The county attorney will probably dismiss the remaining cases connected with this lynching.” On 25 June 1908 the Bennington Tribune announced that the lynching of James Garden “was participated in by all the townspeople” of Henryetta. The mob battered down the jail door and “secured the negro and hung him to a telegraph pole nearby. Then they riddled the body with bullets.” In Purcell, some hundred miles from Durant over in the Chickasaw Nation, a White crowd cheered as a negro was made “a human torch” (Independence, KS Reporter, 25 August 1911). The negro was “burned to death on a brush pile on the Main street of Purcell at 5 o’clock . . . a crowd pf 3,000 persons witnessing the death.” The mob soaked the brush with coal oil then poured oil on the negro. “The pile of wood and brush on which the negro’s body was reduced, to little more than bones and ashes, is still smoldering” (a day later). “The cheers of the crowd when the first flames shot up, mingled with the cries of the negro, and after the body had been burned to a crisp, the crowd cheered again and dispersed.” The majority of cheering witnesses were men, but some were women. 

          What was going on elsewhere in Oklahoma was going on locally, where the Black Costners were being progressively anxious. The 17 August 1911 Blackwell Sun printed 4 headlines about a Caddo crime: “A Negro Lynched. Black Assailant of White Woman Killed by Mob. Body Afterwards Burned. Other Negroes Warned and General Exodus Begun.” A thousand armed citizens followed the assailant (of Mrs. Campbell) south toward the Red River, the Texas line. In “brilliant moonlight” they poured such a rain of bullets that his body was “torn to shreds.” Later the mob saturated a bile of wood with oil and burned the body until it was consumed.

           There were repercussions after the attack on Mrs. Campbell: “a number of negroes have been informed Durant is not the healthiest spot on the globe for them, and as a result there has been a general exodus of those who received warning.” White men in Caddo--allegedly to prevent revenge--“formed a posse and posted signs warning all colored persons in town to leave the place before Saturday night. The negroes started at once, but there was some talk of their expecting aid from negroes of other towns. Since then all negroes have left Durant.” This report came: “The negroes who have been leaving Durant and Caddo are reported to be collected in Caney, north of both towns.”

           Rumors spread: “It is said blacks from other towns are preparing to open up a fight upon the white people of this section. Many small towns throughout this district of Oklahoma are populated nearly entirely by negroes and in a larger number of towns the population of white and black people are equal.” Some Whites used the telephone to incite “A RACE CONFLICT,” reporting racial conflict as “a ruse to start war.”

           Side by side on pages with this local article was a report on the Coatesville, Pennsylvania, capture of “a negro desperado” who in despair had shot himself in the mouth and fallen out of the cherry tree he was hiding in. A thousand people raided the hospital and strapped him to the bed and carried it out of town. They lighted dry grass and weeds under it and set the screaming man on fire then fed the fire with fence rails. Almost as many women as men were in the mob. So much for the higher civilization in Pennsylvania where some of the mob were surely Quakers or descendants of Quakers. Some Oklahomans learned about Coatesville even as they learned about Durant.

           Whites were panicked. When a little girl of Mrs. Ferrell on a farm near the White town of Pirtle “espied a negro approaching,” she “screamed and started to run.” Allegedly the man ran toward her and her sisters until a neighbor fired a shot. In Ada the Pontotoc County Enterprise on 1 September 1911 was certain that the man had “been foiled in his attempt to assault Mrs. Ferrell.” The same paper reported attempts of the “Congress of White Farmers” to “rid” Okfuskee County of negroes. Blacks in Southern Oklahoma were to blame: “The recent lynchings and burning of negroes at Durant and Purcell have actuated the movement in Okfuskee county.” On 31 August 1911 the Tahlequah Arrow added a new story from Durant: “Negro Kidnapped White Child. Attempts to Lure the Mother Into Nearby Woods But Failed--Lynching in Prospect”: “All Bryant county was in a fever of excitement yesterday as a result of a negro kidnapping a two-year-old child Saturday morning with the evident intent of luring the mother after the child, getting her into the woods and assaulting her.” Now it was “probable that a determined effort will be made to drive every negro out of Bryan county. As there are lots of them and some of them are in a defiant mood, such a movement will doubtless cause bloodshed.”

           What precipitated the flight of negroes from Caddo was the shooting of a masked white man, Horace Gribble, by blacks on the night of 2 September. Gribble and a few white companions were on a quiet Saturday night rampage, going down a road shooting at black houses. When they threw a stick of dynamite toward one Negroes fired back, hitting Gribble. The surviving whites told Caddo authorities that they had been fired upon while innocently riding by. The next morning, Sunday the 3rd, and for the next days, Gribble was seen as a martyr to black fiendishness.

         Within hours of the news spreading on the 3rd the Katy (MK&T) station was thronged. The Knoxville Journal and Tribune on the 4th had the news: “All outgoing trains were crowded, while extra facilities were required for the handling of their baggage and express. More than 1,500 purchased tickets for McAlester, Muskogee, Atoka, Okla., and Bonhan, White Right, and Denison, Texas and smaller towns. The ticket sales amounted to nearly a thousand dollars.” This was Sunday, and negroes were going to the depot rather than church. The Knoxville paper continued: “Cattle, hogs and crops were sacrificed at ridiculous prices in order to raise money while much other personal property was left behind. Farmers were in an angry mood following the report of the killing, but the community is quiet tonight since the negroes have fled. A large Sunday crowd at the depot cheered each departing train which carried the blacks from the town. The three negroes arrested for the killing were taken in an automobile to Tishomingo. Officers there at first hesitated to keep the prisoners, fearing a mob would pursue them and attempt a lynching. There ws no agitation here” [in Caddo] “in favor of such a demonstration.”

           On Tuesday, 5 September, the Muskogee Phoenix reported on Sunday: “In a few hours, and for the first time in its history, Caddo was a ‘white’ town. The day following [the shooting of Gribben], Sunday, was a busy one at the M., K., Y T. station. But many of the blacks had left on the northbound train earlier in the day. The revenue at the station exceeded the $1000 mark. In addition three car-loads of effects belonging to local negroes were routed out. Armed crowds watched them leave, horde after horde, on train after train. It was a sight long to be remembered.” “A Farewell Cheer,” the Phoenix said: “And as the afternoon train slowly pulled out of Caddo, loaded to the guards with colored freight, a mighty cheer went up from the crowd, as in ironic salute. This was practically the last of Caddo’s negro population.”

           The Caddo Herald showed how the town was adapting (on September 8): “The negro has gone and we have the ‘Steel King’ washing machine to take her place. We guarantee them to do the work. Brigance Hardware Co.” The paper immediately began inviting Whites: “ The cotton must be picked, the gins must run, there is plenty of hauling and the like to do, besides cement workers, carpenters, and other lines are here to furnish employment. There is plenty to do and Caddo people will welcome those who desire to come here for the purpose of working and making a living, besides something for a rainy day. We have good free schools, city water, light taxes, and good government; what more can an immigrant desire? Come to Caddo.”

           On the 15th the Herald faced “The Race Question”: “The Herald has always believed the negro should be made to keep in his place, and his place necessarily is on the back seat. But because a man is a negro is not full proof that he has no rights at all. . . . The Herald believes now that they are gone our race troubles are at an end and hopes it may thus continue. . . .  White people are fast coming to Caddo to take the places left by the blacks. They are laborers, cotton pickers, and all other lines which formerly were done by the negroes. It may work a hardship for a time, but The Herald believes that in a short while things will run along as smoothly as ever.”

           That was Caddo, only a little over 20 miles from where the Costners lived in Colbert. Some of those fleeing Caddo went south, to Denison and onward. On 5 September 1911 many negroes had arrived in Denison, Texas, just over the Red River, some planning never to return to Oklahoma, “others seeking advice and protection” (said the Chelsea Oklahoma Reporter on 7 September). Dovey was one of the second group:

          Dovey Costner, a negro renter on the Colbert farm, near the Colbert Ferry, four miles north of Denison on Red river, was in Denison Tuesday” (the 5th) “and sought financial assistance in organizing a movement to send a number of negro families to Liberia. He stated that there were nearly fifty families along Red river north of Denison who were ready and anxious to leave for that country. They are willing to dispose of all their cattle, horses, crops and even their land. The Chelsea paper continued:

          Costner says that there are about fifty families who either own their farms or rent lands, obey the laws and live respectably in the neighborhood. Some have resided there for more than ten years and have the confidence and respect of all their white neighbors. Recently these negroes have been subjected to many embarrassing assertions by white men, their homes have been entered during the night and searched for the alleged assaulters of the wives of white men, that there [they] are now afraid to venture on the public roads and into the small towns nearly, least they be accused of some fiendish crime and lynched. Costner, who has more than the average education for a negro farmer, said he and his two brothers were cultivating about one hundred and fifty acres of corn and cotton and expected to realize considerable money off their crops this year, but are ready to load up their household goods and leave their crops, it not being considered safe for them to remain if the present condition continues to prevail.

          Costner is of the belief that the lawless negro element which has created the present strained relation between whites and blacks is due largely to the invasion of Bryan county by negroes from north Texas and southern Oklahoma towns.  He says that to his knowledge many are of the low vagrant element which infests low negro restaurants, pool halls and joints in prohibition districts.

A flippant reporter re-wrote the article for the Pontotoc County Enterprise in Ada, Oklahoma on 8 September: “Negroes in the riot-ridden land of Bryan county, Oklahoma, just north of Denison, are turning their faces toward the dark continent of their forefathers, where the tomtom sounds the call of battle, where only the breech-clout bedecks the body and, above all, where race riots are unknown.” The negroes causing trouble were not residents but “floaters of the type that infest the red light districts of every city.” The “better class of negroes” were “living in daily fear of their lives at the hands of the lower element of whites,” who have repeatedly searched their houses and subjected them “to humiliating treatment.” Now, said Costner, “Negroes Want to Emigrate.”

           All over the country newspapers printed stock stories about Dovey's plan. On 6 September: COSTNER HEADS PARTY (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)----- NEGRO EXPEDITION TO LIBERIA (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)----- NEGROES GOING TO LIBERIA (Wilmington, NC Dispatch)----- WOULD EMIGRATE TO LIBERIA (Washington DC Star). On 7 September NEGROES PLAN TO ABANDON HOMES IN OKLAHOMA FOR NEW ONES IN AFRICA (New Orleans Times-Democrat)----- On October 7 NEGROES TO LIBERIA. RACE TROUBLES IN OKLAHOMA START EXDUS FROM THAT STATE (Pittsburgh Courier).

           The Costners did not go to Liberia. In 1920 Dovey was still on the Colbert farm, still not able to write, and caring for his mother, 90. In 1940 he was in the Tiger section of Okmulgee, but he reported being on a farm as late as 1935. In his last years in Okmulgee lynchings had all but ceased and a 4 April 1948 Okmulgee Times cartoon could mark a great change: fat man in bathrobe looks down the street and from the door his wife calls, “Stop mumbling about crime waves, Edgar--the paper has only been missing for two mornings!” Dovey had known crime waves. Yet through Reconstruction and the KKK and White Man’s Union and the lynchings in Texas and Oklahoma, through the Depression, Moses’s family had stayed together. At a dangerous moment Dovey had been its public face. They lived out their lives. In Okmulgee in 1940 he was "working on his own account" and had worked 21 weeks in 1939 and made $340. Maybe at the end Dovey achieved a measure of security such as his grandfather Randal was anxious to have after Jacob Costner died, but the Black Costners had survived hard lives.



"REPUBLICANS WANT THE NEGRO TO VOTE." Nashville Banner October 10, 1904

 Gleason, Tennessee

The Republican committee met . . . and ordered that all the Republicans of the county take part in this election, provided that all legalised voters be allowed to vote. The original order made by the Democrats was that only white people be allowed to vote, and although there are many negro land-owners and taxpayers, they are prohibited from voting in the election, but all whte Republicans were cordially invited to vote.

    The Republicans refuse to vote unless the negro is allowed a vote, and the final outcome of the matter is unforeseen.

Friday, April 9, 2021

And how could the court be any more political than it is now?

 The announcement comes on the heels of Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s remarks against court expansion this week, warning that it could make the court more political and undermine trust in the institution.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

G.O.P. Group Warns of ‘Defector’ List if Donors Uncheck Recurring Box

 The National Republican Congressional Committee says to donors who opt out of recurring monthly donations: “We will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR.”

No point saying the Republicans are bringing fascism. They are HERE with fascism.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

How many people do you know whose white ancestors came here in the 1600s and up till 1772 but whose parents were not born in any state of the union?

 I am working on Black Costners today and marveling that my mother was born in Oklahoma Territory and my father in Indian Territory.

In 1952 when I was an apprentice telegrapher on the AT&SF in Red Rock, Oklahoma, we had beautiful pristine tickets on great hooks for destination in OT and IT. Well, that was not too long after statehood, and of course the tickets were still valid.

When I tiled the entrance to my study back in the previous century I put in a favorite Wise-signed Minton tile with Sheep so I could see it every day.

 I looked at it this morning and thought of getting another for a coaster.

Would you believe they are "reproducing" the sets? And that I could not afford one of the Victorian ones?

So cherish what you have, starting with the Caregiver.