This June 2021 photo shows the Tullahassee community after a town cleanup event. (Photo by Irene Hickman)

A group of mayors from communities across the United States is coming together to form a coalition taking a closer look into reparations, and the smallest of those communities is a historically Black town in Oklahoma. 

Tullahassee Mayor Keisha Currin is one member of Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity (MORE). Formed this past summer, the group of officials seeks to research and understand the impact reparations could have on a community. The coalition includes representatives of some of the nation’s largest cities: Los Angeles, Austin, Denver. There are some smaller cities like Durham, North Carolina, and Providence, Rhode Island, represented. But Tullahassee, at fewer than 150 residents, is by far the smallest.

Each community is researching and advocating for what is best for them, and Tullahassee, located about 45 miles southeast of Tulsa, will have its first advisory commission meeting today (October 13, 2021). Among the commission members is Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell. The commission will make recommendations for developing a pilot reparations program and what it will entail. 

This June 2021 photo shows the Tullahassee town sign. (Photo by Cymone Davis) 

“It will be the first time that we’re all sitting at the same table and able to start planning for Tullahassee and to figure out how we’re going to move forward,” said Tullahassee City Manager Cymone Davis. “I feel joy to bring this type of awareness to Tullahassee, to our state, and to show that this is Black hope.”

While the mayors of MORE are working as a coalition, each community is also working independently to determine what reparations could look like for them.

“It’s the early stages of wrapping data research, understanding what reparations really looks like  in our future: is it the same conversation of reparations that we would have had in the 70s and 80s? Or does it look, again, completely different?,” said Davis, who connected with the mayor’s office in Los Angeles earlier this year.

 “And so we have an advisory commission to help the mayor, programs and initiatives for reparations and equity. I’m really excited to really make history right now. And to really do this for the people. This is for our people.”

Currin, who grew up in Tullahassee, explained the community’s history. Creek peoples founded the community in the 1800s. The tribal citizens had Black slaves, she noted.  

“That’s how it became a historically Black town,” she added. 

A school opened for Black and Indigenous children and eventually turned into a historic all-Black college called Flipper Davis College. At one time, there were other schools as well as a movie theater and a bed and breakfast in Tullahassee.

“Tullahassee, in my opinion, after slavery, has always been founded upon nothing but love,” Currin said. “That pride in our community and the love that we have for one another is what’s going to carry us through to revitalizing our community.”

This undated photo shows Tullahassee, Oklahoma. (Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society) 

Davis, Currin, and others have been working to revitalize and preserve the town. Preservation efforts include the A.J. Mason Building, which they hope to turn into a museum or tourist center as part of the pilot program for reparations. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building is the only remaining commercial building in Tullahassee, according to the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office. The property housed a grocery store until the 1950s. 

Tourism organizations often come through the area, Currin noted, as there has been renewed interest in Oklahoma’s historically all-Black towns, which currently number 13. At the height, there were more than 50 all-Black communities, the most of any state in the U.S., according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Tullahassee is considered the oldest historically all-Black community in what was known as the Indian Territory. 

(Oklahoma Historical Society)