The former city manager of the oldest historically Black town in Oklahoma is developing a Geographic Information System (GIS) tool that will map all the Black townships in the U.S.
Cymone Davis recently stepped down as city manager of Tullahassee, Oklahoma, to run Black Towns Municipal Management, with the goal of scaling and creating sustainability for the work done in Black townships.
“I think that what I’m really excited about with the GIS mapping tool is for the public to identify, recognize, and completely go down their own rabbit hole of figuring out what Black townships are, where they used to be, and what they can be,” Davis said.
The tool, which will launch around mid-February, makes for an exciting accomplishment for Black History Month, she added.
Davis said records indicate Black townships were around even before the American Revolution, and now roughly 30 historic communities and townships remain today.
“The history of all these townships are so unique, and they’re so different,” she said. Oklahoma has the most Black townships of any state today, which Davis defines as a community that is incorporated and with land ownership.
Davis worked with Dr. Atyia Martin, founder and CEO of diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm and former Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Boston, on the GIS tool for the Black townships.
“I realized through this process of creating this mapping tool, the history is such that the data is so lacking via a Google search or search engine,” Davis said. “So it was really difficult to find a starting point of locating U.S. townships and understanding their historical relevance …and the current landscape.”
Davis said many people will uncover unknown communities. Martin, herself, learned about a Black town in Massachusetts that she did not know about.
Davis, who served as City Manager of Tullahassee – population about 116 people – for 16 months, is also the founder and executive director of Kingdom Come International, a boarding school for Black students that she hopes will open up in 2024 in Tullahassee. During her tenure, the town boundaries grew from less than 500 acres to more than 1,000 acres, she said.
“Infrastructure is huge, I think, for any community to survive,” Davis said. “And when we talk about rural America, that is one thing that is lacking, and not just in the Black townships, right, but in these other rural towns and communities. So what I’m really excited about is to pivot and show the broader America that rural America is still around, and is still alive, and it still has history.”
Tullahassee made headlines last year when it was announced that Mayor Keisha Currin was among the first mayors in the country to take part in the Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity. Tullahassee was also the smallest of the communities, which included mayors from cities including Los Angeles, Kansas City, Missouri, and Austin.
“Keep your eyes open for what’s to happen…perhaps in the next year, the next five years,” Davis said of Tullahassee’s future.