Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The African Americans, Many Rivers to Cross – Episode 4: Gone to Oklahoma

Last night, the fourth episode of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross aired on PBS.  This episode, entitled Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940), highlighted the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North, Midwest, and West from around 1910 to 1970.  This mass relocation became known as the Great Migration. African Americans left the South in droves, removing themselves from the harsh and racist climate of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas.  Even in my own family, my maternal grandmother, Minnie Davis Reed, who was the youngest child of nine children born to John Hector Davis and Mary Danner Davis, had six of her own siblings to relocate to Chicago Illinois, Evanston Illinois, and Benton Harbor Michigan. Grandma Minnie and her brother, Uncle Fred Douglas Davis, were the only two to remain in the South. They both opted to live their last years in Memphis, Tennessee, just 35 miles north of their hometown of Como, Mississippi.

Conditions were so volatile in my home state of Mississippi, that from 1910 to 1920, the state experienced the largest migration of its African-American citizens to northern states than any of the ten southern states.  Sources note that of the approximately 473,000 African Americans that left the South in that decade alone, nearly 130,000 were from Mississippi.  From 1940 to 1960, about a million other Mississippians, nearly 75 percent of them African-American, departed the state permanently.  Many of them relocated to Chicago and Detroit, especially.  So many Mississippians had moved to Chicago that I often heard the city being called “New Mississippi.”  Chicago’s African-American population tremendously grew from 40,000 in 1910 to over 230,000 in 1930.

However, little is spoken about a small sector of the migrating African-American population who chose to go west to Oklahoma during the 1889 Land Rush of Oklahoma, occurring about 20 years before the start of the Great Migration.  On March 3, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison announced that the government would open the 1.9 million-acre tract of Indian Territory for settlement at noon on April 22nd. Anyone could join the race for the land, but jumping the gun was not permitted. During those 7 weeks after Harrison’s announcement, over 50,000 land-hungry Americans quickly began to gather around the borders of Oklahoma to take advantage of the new land.  By nightfall on April 22, they had staked thousands of claims either on town lots or quarter section farm plots. The towns of Norman, Oklahoma City, Kingfisher, Guthrie, and others sprung into being almost overnight.  This is considered to be the largest land rush in American history, and within a month after April 22, five banks and six newspapers were established. By 1900, African-American farmers owned about 1.5 million acres of land in the Oklahoma territory. A number of African-American towns in Oklahoma were also established, such as Boley, Langston, Lincoln, Taft, etc.

One of those many land-hungry settlers in 1889 was my great-grandmother’s second oldest brother, Mack Danner (1859-c.1910).  Whether or not Uncle Mack was one of those 50,000+ who setup a tent on the border the night before April 22 is a matter of speculation, but he, his wife Annie, and their children had settled near Guthrie, Oklahoma sometime between 1889 and 1892. This was evident from the 1900 Logan County, Oklahoma census. Their son, Alexander (Alex) Danner, was born in Panola County (Como), Mississippi in Jan. 1889, but their next child, Laura Danner, was born in Oklahoma in May 1892.

1900 Logan County, Oklahoma census
The census-taker erroneously spelled the family’s last name as “McDanna”. Also, it was noted in this census that Uncle Mack Danner owned land.

I have been fortunate to meet and get to know a number of Uncle Mack Danner’s descendants after learning of their existence. The family had settled in Omaha, Nebraska by 1918. One of those descendants is my cousin, the late Dorothy Danner West, a granddaughter of Uncle Mack Danner, who shared the following photos of the family that were taken in Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Uncle Mack Danner (1859-c.1910)
Picture taken before 1910 in Guthrie, Oklahoma

Uncle Mack Danner’s wife Annie McGee Danner and their 10 children
Guthrie, Oklahoma

Two of Uncle Mack Danner’s sons who were killed in Oklahoma by a man who feared for his life from the two brothers

Uncle Mack Danner’s son, Alex Danner, who was the last child born in Mississippi in Jan. 1889 before the family moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma

Uncle Mack Danner’s daughter, Laura Danner Lowe, and her son, Artis Lowe. She was their first child who was born in Oklahoma in May 1892.

Uncle Mack Danner’s in-laws, Mack Henry McGee & Julia Hinkles McGee, who accompanied them to Oklahoma from Panola County, Mississippi

Omaha Sen. Edward R. Danner, youngest son of Mack and Annie Danner, was the lone African-American legislator in the Nebraska Unicameral during the U.S. Civil Rights era of the 1960’s.

Pictures by the late Dorothy Danner West

The African American Blogging Circle is a group of genealogy bloggers who are sharing their family stories, seen through their own personal lens, from the PBS series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.  Click here for a list of the participating bloggers and check out their stories.

Watch Episode 4