A Change in Color Attitude

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 Sayre’s 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, Sayre’s 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 teacher’s 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, Don’t 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 or white.


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