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Monday, November 21, 2016

Stillwater's African American History Project

In last week’s column, we announced our digital archiving program taking place Nov. 29-Dec. 1. Spaces have been filling up, so if you are interested in having your family history material digitized, be sure to call or email soon at 405-372-3633 x8106 or

I also mentioned our African American genealogy program on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m. It is part of the archiving project, as we will be digitizing material for attendees of the program as it is taking place.

The genealogy program is also part of a bigger project we have been working on here at the library, which is gathering the history of Stillwater’s African American community members. Mrs. Gloria Bailey, who grew up in Stillwater and attended Washington School, and her family have been working with me on documenting information about families, businesses, organizations and events that she recalls from her childhood.

The main reason we started the project is because not very much information about Stillwater’s African American community was included in compiled histories, which makes it difficult to answer our patrons’ history questions. If everyone with a little bit of information will come together to share what they have, then all of us will have access to as much more data.

During the project, Mrs. Bailey and I have been meeting so that I can ask her an array of questions about growing up in Stillwater. I knew about some of the information she provided, but have been thrilled and surprised with how much information she has been able to fill in.

A big part of the project has been identifying long-time community members we hope to interview with the gracious assistance of OSU’s Oral History Project. The hardest part of preparing for the interviews has been pulling together a list of questions we’d like to see asked. It’s hard to narrow down which questions to ask because there is so much we don’t know. Every time we meet, Mrs. Bailey recalls a new fascinating piece of Stillwater history.

For example, did you know there was a Black Chamber of Commerce? That there was a sit-in at one of Stillwater’s diners during the Civil Right era? That there used to be a park near 15th street? That people might be deemed a Lowlander or a Highlander based on where their home was located during Stillwater’s many floods?

Mrs. Bailey is a font of information, but where we really lack is in printed material. Hopefully, many more of our community members have information to share. We ask that anyone with documents, photos, diaries, letters, annuals and other pieces of history about Stillwater’s African American community please come and sign-up for a digitization session, and then consider sharing a copy of your documents with the library. We are excited to see what we can pull together, together!

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