At the very beginning of the twenties an itinerant
black man died in Sayre. City officials found themselves impaled on
the horns of a dilemma. No relatives of the African-American could
be found and no satisfactory solution to an unprecedented predicament
was offered by city councilmen.
There was no need for segregation in Sayre at the time, because there
were no black residents. However, there was a negative attitude toward
black people nursed by many natives. John Lane, the undertaker, brought
the situation to a crisis.
Something has to be done, and I mean right now, he said
to the mayor. That man has been in my store for over a week
and it is high time he was put underground.
Later that night John and the mayor took the body to the old town
cemetery east of the courthouse, said a few words over him and interred
his body in an unmarked grave.
It just might have been Sayres best-kept secret. One can only
speculate what punishment the Ku Klux Klan might have meted out for
an adventure such as this to the mayor and John Lane.
During the thirties, Sayres black population had increased to
the extent it had become an educational concern.
Segregation was the accepted policy in Oklahoma schools. So, it became
necessary to establish a separate school for black students. This
was arranged by the board of education. The school building was situated
south of the courthouse. A black school teacher was hired. Sayre residents
seemed pleased with the solution of an unprecedented problem.
After a visit to the school while it was in session, John Salyer,
a member of the board of education, was so impressed with the teachers
expertise and conduct of her students, he could not understand why
segregation was so essential.
Sayre had come a considerable piece since the Ku Klux Klan was in
sway and there was a sign on the Fifth Street river bridge reading:
Nigger, Dont Let the Sun Go Down!
Sayre was beginning to realize that Love Thy Neighbor
meant what it said, without looking first to see if he were black