- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) - The history of all black towns in Oklahoma is one that is deeply rooted for those who live in them, but that history is fairly unknown to most Oklahomans.

Independent filmmaker Kari Barber said that it was time to shed light on historically black towns in the state and put together a documentary, “Struggle and Hope.”

Barber grew up in southeast Oklahoma and attended school in Moore. She said she spent most of her summers in the Lake Eufaula area with her grandmother in Checotah, the Muskogee Phoenix (http://bit.ly/1dfdbYz ) reported.

“This is the first time and an honor to do something about Oklahoma,” Barber said. “It’s where I’m from. I’ve done corresponding journalism mostly in southeast Asia and West Africa before I came back, and it means a lot to come home and do something about home.”

Barber said she got interested in the background in 2012 her mother-in-law brought the towns to her attention.

“My mother-in-law went to see the play, ‘Oklahoma,’ and the lead actress was an African-American woman,” Barber said. “On the back of the program there was a tiny bio about African-Americans in Oklahoma, and it talked about race, states and there was an effort to make Oklahoma majority black. It was the first state that didn’t have segregation after the Civil War. The idea was that this could be the place with no segregation and no Jim Crow laws. Over 10,000 people came.”

Once the seed was planted, Barber said she started doing research.

“I looked it up and it became interesting. It’s a whole part of our history and who we are,” Barber said. “I started making phone calls and calling experts, but it’s not the same as calling, and going to the towns is different.”

When Barber got a job at University of Nevada Reno as an assistant professor, she had to move from Washington, D.C., to the west coast of the country, and she was able to spend six weeks in Oklahoma. During her stay, she started meeting with local historians and pitching the idea for the documentary.

Barber has now filmed in about a dozen towns around the state and will show short film screenings that are a part of the film that will be released in 2016 to five of the towns, including Summit and Rentiesville, throughout the month of June.

Barber said she feels it’s important to share the film with the towns before anyone else.

“All of them are struggling, and a lot of people go in and they feel like they share their stories and they don’t feel like anything becomes of it, and nothing comes back,” Barber said. “I don’t want to get their story and give nothing back. The screenings are a way to bring people outside the community inside and get them energized about saving the towns.”

During the screenings, several special presenters will include historians Jimmie White, Shirley Ann Nero, All-Black Town Tours organizer Cassandra Gaines and geographer Dr. Russell Graves. The events in Clearview and Rentiesville will include an educational performance on Oklahoma blues history by Dr. Harold C. Aldridge Jr.

As our shared and collective history, Barber said we should all play a role in preserving and protecting it.

“We have this amazing history. These towns helped form Oklahoma and our country,” Barber said. “They impacted our whole nation, not just people in the town. This documentary will show why preserving its history is so important.

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Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com

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