(Author’s Note: The period between 1890 and 1910 was one of the most unique and dynamic in Oklahoma history. Not only did the Twin Territories merge to become a state but Oklahoma’s Constitution was written and adopted. After the Constitution’s passage, then-President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation making Oklahoma the 46th state of the union. But other events — which weren’t so positive — also took place, including an incredibly racist gubernatorial campaign and the development of onerous legislation that disenfranchised thousands of African American and Native American residents. These stories explore this period and are based on documents, written first-hand accounts and other resources obtained from the Oklahoma History Center and the state’s official archives. In light of recent events and the nationwide call for racial harmony, we believe these stories provide much deeper context for the state’s often troubled racial history. Please note, some of the language used by Governor Haskell could be offensive to some readers. This is the second story in a multi-part series.)
The relationship between the residents of Oklahoma City and Guthrie, stoked by the fight to capture the capital, became so bad that one newspaper, the Oklahoma Daily Journal, described Guthrie residents as “raving lunatics.”
With the tension still thick, Guthrie’s political leaders moved quickly to protect their city. They began to look for other ways — outside of the legislature — to secure their hold on the seat of state government.
Help came in the form of their new congressman, Dennis Flynn. Flynn – who had served as Guthrie’s first postmaster – was elected to congress in 1892. As a congressman, he added language to a territorial appropriation bill that prevented “the removal of the seat of government from its present location.”
Years later, Flynn justified his amendment, telling a reporter he placed it in the appropriations bill “after the scandal we had over the attempt to locate the capitol by the first legislature,” a reference to the ill-fated attempts by lawmakers from Kingfisher and Oklahoma City.
In 1894 Congressman Bird McGuire of Pawnee, following Flynn’s lead, added the prohibition language to the territorial appropriation bill. In fact, Flynn’s original language was added to federal legislation 1896 and 1898.
In 1900, McGuire strengthened Guthrie’s hold on the capital by adding a provision in the territorial appropriation bill which stated the legislature ‘shall not make any appropriation or enter into any contract for a capitol building.’”
But even with the backing of the U.S. Congress, Guthrie’s hold on the seat of state government remained tenuous.
Though Guthrie residents had won the first rounds of what would become a twenty-year fight to remain the seat of government, Oklahoma City refused to yield. The back-and-forth continued during the 1890s. Guthrie received support from Republican presidential administrations and Oklahoma City delegates waged the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare with help from the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Daily Oklahoman newspaper.
The pressure reached a boiling point during 1906.
As Oklahoma prepared for statehood, Congressman McGuire offered an amendment that many believed would be the last word said about the capital debate. McGuire’s amendment to the Federal Enabling Act required the capital stay in Guthrie until 1913.
“I added this provision to the Oklahoma Enabling Act because I thought things should get settled in the new state before the people began to consider the permanent location of the state capital,” McGuire said in a 1930 interview with federal researchers.
In Guthrie, newspaper publisher Frank Greer and his fellow Republicans breathed a collective sigh of relief. McGuire’s legislation, they believed, would give everyone involved in the capital fight a chance to heal their wounds and, at the same time, keep the capital in Guthrie long enough to prevent it from being moved.
That relief was buttressed by an action taken by members of the Constitutional Convention, when convention delegates passed an omnibus resolution accepting all provisions of the Oklahoma Enabling Act – including the provision that mandated the capital’s location.
“Many people thought this settled the capital question,” wrote historian Oscar Presley Fowler in 1933. “But most of the lawyers in the Twin Territories thought that Congress had no right to pass such an act and that acceptance of the provision by the delegates was merely a conclusion.”
McGuire – and Guthrie’s – victory, though, was short-lived.
Representatives from Oklahoma City, chaffed by a long string of defeats, tried a new tactic – they turned to the public.
Over the next year, Oklahoma City raised the issue of states’ right and launched an on-going smear campaign, criticizing Congress for overstepping its authority. At the same time, a Democratic candidate for governor, Charles Haskell, with the help of the populist-controlled Democratic Party, stoked the territory’s racial fears, hammering away at the Republican’s support of African Americans and territorial governor Frank Frantz’s appointment of African Americans to state posts.
On March 26, 1907, Haskell, who previously served as vice-president of the Sequoyah Convention, became the Democratic nominee for governor. Haskell secured the nomination during a banquet held at the Brady Hotel in Tulsa.
Haskell, his own speeches show, played heavily on racial prejudice. Campaigning throughout Oklahoma Territory Haskell told crowds that Guthrie and Oklahoma as a whole, would become an ‘Negro Eldorado’ if Frantz remained as governor. He also pointed to Greer, the newspaper publisher, as part of the problem.
During his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination, Haskell sought to reassure the party’s faithful that if elected governor he would do everything possible to keep African Americans as second-class citizens.
“In Oklahoma we have today what you will all, on careful consideration agree is an alarming condition,” Haskell said. “Those in control of the Republican party have, in recent instances, declared in favor of mixed schools, have declared opposition to separate coach and separate waiting rooms, and have also, by resolution and appointment to office, encouraged the negro to realize that if that element of the Republican is to be recognized by the election of their state ticket the State of Oklahoma will forever be the ‘Negro Eldorado.”Gov. Charles Haskell, Democratic Acceptance Speech
And the Oklahoma State Capital newspaper was, in Haskell’s eyes, the mouthpiece of that enemy.
“Guthrie, during this era, was a Republican-dominated town and the headquarters for the territorial Republican Party organization,” wrote historian Arthur Lincoln Tolson in a study of African Americans in Territorial Oklahoma. “Therefore, Democratic politicians made the Negro and the Republican party synonymous.”
Governor Frantz, a former Rough Rider, was a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. As the sitting territorial governor, Frantz was the strongest candidate the Republican party had to face Haskell.
Haskell and his fellow Democrats knew this. They attacked Frantz for his efforts to include African Americans in the new state during a series of joint ‘discussions’ (debates) throughout the territory.
Nothing, Haskell said, “will forever destroy the bright prospects of the State of Oklahoma more emphatically than to admit those of African descent to complete equality and social affiliation with other citizens of the state.”Gov. Charles Haskell, Democratic Acceptance Speech
Haskell also criticized Frantz for appointing an African American as deputy state auditor, claiming that Oklahomans would be ashamed “where (a) fair white girl stenographer is pinked with the blush of shame by being compelled to earn her bread by official association with a Negro superior.”
Democrats, the governor said, should push back against the Republican Party’s support of African Americans. “If by a majority vote you put your stamp of approve upon the men who are upon the Republican State ticket political preference and upon the official policy heretofore and up the state and local platforms pursued by Governor Frantz of Oklahoma Territory, you thereby extend an open and cordial welcome to the Negro race of other states.”
Haskell told the audience the appointment of African American meat inspectors in Oklahoma Territory over and “against a worthy and competent ex-Union soldier of the white race,” was an “unspeakable offense of the Negro against the purity of our white women.”
Over the course of the election, Haskell’s racist campaign grew stronger.
And though Democrats campaigned telling voters they would protect the property and political rights of those of African descent, those rights, Haskell said, should be inferior to the rights of white citizens.
“We deny that there should be any social equality or political preference,” Haskell said, warning Oklahomans that Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi would be depopulated if Frantz were elected governor “and held out his protecting arms to them (African Americans).”Governor Charles Haskell
Throughout the campaign Haskell used racial slurs to attack Frantz. Haskell used more than just speeches to attack his opponents. Originally a railroad promoter from Ohio, Haskell was also a newspaper publisher, launching The New-State Tribune earlier that year on March 15, 1906, in Muskogee.
Filled with Haskell’s opinions on government and the law, the tiny weekly was little more than a promotional sheet for Haskell’s future political ambitions – but it was enough to get him the attention he needed. That effort, coupled with the Democrats’ race bating, proved successful.
General election returns show that Haskell pulled 134,162 votes to the Republican Frank Frantz’s 106,507. The campaign was bitter and ugly, so bitter in fact, that on the day Haskell was inaugurated, Frantz refused to ride in the same car with him.
On November 22, 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state in the union, merging the Twin Territories into an untamed frontier filled with ‘every type of conceivable individual.’
“It is very difficult to describe the typical 89er,” wrote historian, Lloyd McGuire, Jr. “Some were rich, but most were relatively poor.”
Following the election and now, an official state of the union, power in the Oklahoma Legislature shifted to the Democrats giving Guthrie and Greer a new foe: A thin-skinned, racist governor who believed Guthrie and its most prominent newspaper publisher were the enemy.
Inspired by Haskell, Democratic members of the state legislature, now with a sympathetic governor in office, tried again to move the capital, this time using an initiative petition to locate the capital by public vote. Presented to voters on November 3, 1908, the proposal gathered more yes votes than no votes, but the percentage of the vote wasn’t enough to give the petition the force of law.
“That measure,” Fowler, the historian wrote, “was killed by the ‘silent vote’ although 42,000 more voted for it than against it.”
The ‘silent vote’ problem remained an issue in Oklahoma up until 1974. Prior to 1974 the Oklahoma Constitution required that a ballot measure receive a majority of the votes cast in the election “and not just a majority of the votes cast on the question,” wrote Rick Farmer and Brian Rader in the study of Oklahoma’s use of the initiative and referendum process. “This ‘silent vote’ provision killed 35 proposals that received a majority of the vote,” the pair wrote. “This included three in 1908, Oklahoma’s very first election.”
Once again, Guthrie maintained its hold on the capital.
But Charles Haskell wasn’t finished. Over the next few years he would increase his effort to move the seat of Oklahoma’s government.
And he would break to the law to do it.
Up Next: Haskell Intensifies His Efforts To Relocate The Capital