Traveling Smithsonian exhibit reaches historically all-black town in Oklahoma

BOLEY, Okla. — A small, historically all-black town in Okfuskee County is about to get national recognition.

You’ll find Boley along Highway 62, northwest of Okemah. This historic African-American town is just one of 13 left in Oklahoma. At one point, Boley was home to more than 4,000 people. Now, it’s population is down to just 1,500. Half of that population resides in the local prison.

However, locals hope that a traveling Smithsonian exhibit will highlight the town’s history while also attracting people to their town.

Crossroads: Change in Rural America is a traveling exhibit that highlights rural areas across America. It’s a chance to highlight the importance of rural areas and how we can revitalize them.

Karen Ekuban said she heard about the traveling exhibit and decided to apply, even though she knew that competition would be tough. However, luck was on Boley’s side. Boley is one of six towns featured in the exhibit.

“We infused our own culture in the exhibit, and how we’re doing that is by having speakers each week. Then we’re also doing Screen on the Green with special productions,” said Ekuban.

Ekuban is part of a group of women working to revitalize Boley. Ekuban hopes to bring grocery stores to the city, in addition to local shops and restaurants. “This is not just black history, this is Oklahoma history. this is American history. We all need to celebrate, honor, and learn,” said Ekuban.

Crossroads: Change in Rural America begins Saturday at the Boley Community Center. It will run through Jun. 25.

“The exhibition brings people to the community, but what we want is to have a reason to stay.”