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Saturday, February 16, 2019

"Wide Awake" Franklin in 1912

On this date in 1912, the African American newspaper in Nashville - the Nashville Globe - published a complimentary article about Franklin and its thriving black community. The piece gives a wonderful snapshot of the leading businessmen in the community at that time.

Titled, "Historic Franklin Taking on New Life," the article discussed how the total population of Franklin was about 3,000 people of which 1,000 were African American, or in the language of the time "Negroes". The article continued: 

The Nashville Globe Fri Feb 16, 1912
"No more wide-awake seat, of its size can be found in the old Volunteer State. . . These thrifty, industrious, wide-awake one thousand Negroes stand on par with those of any other city. Indeed the homes of some of the most noted men and women of the United States can be traced to this quiet, unassuming spot on Tennessee's map. . . . The Negroes are conducting the following businesses: grocery stores, butcher shops, shoe shops, tailoring establishments, undertaking establishments, hotels and other enterprises that, not only furnish their children employment, but that gives them a rating in the business world. All of this has not induced them to overlook their religious duties. There are eight organized, well-attended churches whose towers point skyward at Franklin. The peaceful relation which exists between the races has always been a matter of much favorable comment. . . . At present there are some successful businessmen and farmers in the county: 









Mr. ANC Wiliams, proprietor of a grocery store; Mr. G. W. Patton & Company, grocery merchants;   















Mr. T. A. Williams, proprietor of a grocery store; 



















Mr. J. T. Patton, undertaker; 

Alice Otey Patton with her husband J. T. Patton, Undertaker - photo courtesy of Rick Warwick
Henry Ewing, undertaker and businessman
The_Nashville_Globe_Fri__Jan_12__1912
Mr. H. G. Ewing, undertaker; 

Mr. John Lawrence, merchant tailor; Mr, Andrew Merritt, blacksmith; 
















Mr. Will Redmond, proprietor of a hotel; 

Mr. John Carter, president of the Thrashing Machine Company; Mr. Andrew Ewing, Mr. Henry Ferguson and Mr. Harry Ewing are contractors, and there is a contracting firm in the city known as Ewing and Wilson. 

The proprietors of barbershops are Mssrs. Fount Brown, Jackson McEwen, and John Hughes. While the butcher shop there is owned by Mr. Charley Conn, who has been in business over a quarter of a century, Mr. Jack Shelburn is one of the leading upholsterers in the city, while Mr. Gus Foster occupies an enviable position as a machine man. 

The Wiley and Jane Scruggs family from Carter's Creek Pike in Franklin - photo courtesy of Rick Warwick
Prominent among the farmers in close proximity to Franklin, who own splendid farms of their own, are Mssrs. Jack Daws, Tom Mason, Wiley Scruggs, John Gentry, and M. Hatcher. The homes of Franklin compare on the whole favorably with those of any other city in the state." 



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Greene Irving Currin (1842-1918) Exoduster and Oklahoma Legislator

Green Currin (1842-1918)
By Digital photo of Painting provided by
 Legislative Service Bureau - www.oksenate.gov,
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26158332
Green Irving Currin was born near Franklin in Williamson County and became the first African American to serve in the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature where he became a champion of Civil Rights.  He was a police officer, federal marshall, and involved in a voting rights case that went to the Supreme Court and made the phrase "grandfather clause" popular. His story has been forgotten in his birthplace. I hope this post helps to begin to reintroduce him to Williamson County.

Early Life In Tennessee. Currin was born on October 20, 1847, in Williamson County, Tennessee, near the town of Franklin. I think his parents were a couple named Windsor and Lucinda Currin. Windsor was born in Virginia around 1812 and Lucinda was born in Tennessee around 1828.  

Likely Enslaved By Currin Family.  Several sons of a white man named Robert P. Currin (1745-1802) from Louisa County, Virginia moved to Tennessee - including Williamson County - in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  One son, Robert P. Currin Jr was a successful merchant in Franklin, early Williamson County Commissioner, State-wide commissioner of public education, land speculator, politician, and later a planter in west Tennessee.  Another son John Currin settled in the Nashville area and two of his sons lived in Williamson County - one of whom, John Menefee Currin (1810-1852), I believe enslaved Green, his father and possibly his mother.  
Inventory of Enslaved People in
Estate of  John Menefee Currin (1810-1852)
Highlighted names - Louisa [possibly Lucinda?], Windz (Windsor) and Green
Probate File for J. M. Currin
When John M. Currin died, in 1852, Windsor and Green were listed on the inventory of the people he was enslaving. Windsor would have been 45 years old and Green would have been 5. Also listed was a woman named Louisa - who might be Windsor's wife "Lucinda." Later in life, Currin said that his grandfather was an Irishman named Tommy Curran. Robert P. Currin, whose children and grandchildren lived in middle Tennessee including Williamson County, had a grandfather named Thomas Currin.  He was born in Ireland and emigrated to America.  Perhaps this was the Tommy Currin to whom Green Currin was referring.


Emancipation.  Green would have been 14 years old when the Civil War broke out.  According to a profile published when he served in the Oklahoma legislature, he:
"remained with his master until the emancipation proclamation, when he struck the shackles of slavery from his limbs. Thence removed to Nashville and attended the Central Tennessee College for three years."


Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, Friday, September 6, 1890

Early Photo of Central Tennessee College
The Central Tennessee College was founded at the close of the Civil War by northern Methodist missionaries to educate formerly enslaved people in Nashville. With assistance from the federal Freedmen's Bureau, the school built two brick buildings on today's 1st Avenue South to hold classes. It's likely this is the location where Green Currin attended classes. In the 1870s the school founded the first medical school in the South for African Americans which later became Meharry Medical College

After his college training, on February 17, 1870, Green married his wife Caroline Starnes in Nashville. 
Marriage Records, Davidson County, Tennessee 1870 - p. 87
Green "Irving" Currin married Caroline Starnes - both were identified as "colored"

According to family history, Caroline was so light-skinned she had been branded to make it clear that she was an enslaved person and to prevent her from passing for white during slavery.
Caroline Starnes Currin
1850-1927
In the 1870 Federal Census, Green (28 years old) and Caroline (21 years old) were living in District 16 of Williamson County.  Green was a farm laborer and Caroline was probably already pregnant with their first child Kitty.  The name Kitty may have been a nickname for Christina and could have been a family name from the white Currin family.  John M. Currin had an aunt named Christina "Kitty" Currin. Another possibility is that in 1853, when Green Currin's enslaver died, a woman and her daughter were sold away from the estate to satisfy some debts.  Their names were Charity and Kitty.  According to the probate records, the pair were sold at public auction on the Public Square to the highest bidder (as so many were and as I discussed in another blog post). Perhaps Green was related to them, or perhaps he named his daughter in honor of the child, or perhaps there is no relationship to the name at all. 
A reference to the sale of Charity and her child Kitty in the probate documents of John M. Currin, 1853.
Living next to the newlywed couple was an older couple named Winzor (Windsor) Green and his wife Lucinda.  I believe they are Green's parents. Windsor was farming and Green was working as a farm laborer - probably for his father.


A portion of 1870 Federal Census for Williamson County, Tennessee District 16
Page 23, Lines 20-23
Two couples Winzor (Windsor?) and Lucinda Currin followed by Green J. and Carline (Caroline) Currin.
Based on proximity to their neighbors counted on the Census, I suspect that Green and Caroline were living either on or very near the original Currin land near the intersection of Concord Road and Bluff Road in Brentwood.  In 1878 this land was owned by George Washington (G. W.) Currin - as indicated in the map below.  If they were not living there, they were probably living and farming at Holt Land, a large sharecropping community that developed on the Thomas Holt plantation which provided former slave quarters for its farm laborers.  Those cabins are shown on the map below adjacent to the number 16.
A portion of 1878 Map of Williamson County, Tennessee
Showing District 16
Over the next few years, Green and Caroline had several children - Kitty, Henry Irving, Windsor Silas (named after his grandfather?), Janie, and Thomas Perkins. Green may have also been working as a school teacher in Nashville or Williamson County. 

In April 1874, Green participated in the Colored Convention in Nashville as a delegate from Williamson County.  The participants were largely Republicans who were strongly advocating for integrated schools and equal rights.


Exodusters - Ho for Kansas!

Around 1879, the family took part in a migration that many other African American families from the area had already participated in - the exodus to Kansas.  They pulled up stakes and headed to the "Free State of Kansas" - becoming "Exodusters."  I have discussed the experience of Williamson County's Exodusters in great depth in another post here.


The_Topeka_Weekly_Times_Thu__Apr_15__1875
The Workingman's Courier (Independence, Kansas)
Thursday, November 25, 1875
Four years earlier, the newspaper was reporting that a group of 75 people
from Williamson County had become Exodusters and headed to Kansas.
Newspaper accounts described how farms in Williamson County had been "stripped" of their hands - sometimes blaming agents of the Kansas railroads for encouraging the migration.


The Nashville Republican Banner,
Thursday, April 29, 1875
Benjamin Singleton, and S.A. McClure, Leaders of the Exodus, leaving Nashville, Tennessee.
Photomural from montage. Historic American Building Survey Field Records, HABS FN-6, #KS-49-12.
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 
Most likely, the Currin family took a steamship up the Cumberland River from Nashville to Paducah, Kentucky where the river joins the Ohio, to Cairo, Illinois and the mighty Mississippi.  Their steamship would have followed the Mississippi north, to St. Louis and then traveled west along the Missouri River past Kansas City, Missouri and there their journey seems to have ended, just across the river, at the small town of Wynadotte, Kansas outside of Topeka. Green would have been about 38 years old and a husband and father of four young children.
Approximate Route taken by Exodusters traveling by riverboat from Nashville to Kansas.

Life in Kansas

By 1881 the Currins were settling into life in Kansas.  Green purchased a small lot for $40 in a suburb of Topeka. And by early 1882 he was involved in Republican politics there.  
The Topeka Daily Capital December 23, 1881
1800s Topeka, Kansas #34 Police Badge
This badge is likely similar to the one
Green Currin wore on the job in Topeka
Green was elected as a policeman or "Bull" in Topeka and by-all-accounts was popular and good at his job. The couple added a daughter Rosa to the family in 1882 but suffered the sad loss of a son Roscoe in infancy the following year.  


Kitty Currin
1871-1887
Additionally, on September 13, 1887, the couple's 16-year-old daughter Kitty died from yellow fever. She was a popular and active teenager; several newspaper accounts reported on her activities in the AME Church in Topeka.  Her death must have been a terrible blow to Green and Caroline Currin.  They buried Kitty in the same cemetery as their infant son Roscoe.







Political Life in Kansas

Interview with Green Currin the night before the election.
The following April, Currin entered politics on a new scale when he ran for and won the Republican primary for the elected position of police judge in Topeka. However, he was faced with the ugly racism of the time and narrowly lost despite the fact that Topeka had more registered Republican voters than Democrats.  It seems clear that the deciding factor was the shade of Green Currin's skin.  The morning after the election, a Democrat-leaning newspaper seemed delighted at the result and carried several cartoons reporting the outcome.


Topeka Daily Press, Apr 4, 1888


Topeka Daily Press, Apr 4, 1888


Topeka Daily Press, Apr 4, 1888


Topeka Daily Press, Apr 4, 1888
Topeka Daily Press, Apr 4, 1888

This editorial comment in another paper made it crystal clear why Green Currin lost:
The Topeka Daily Press, Wed April 4, 1888
Another summary of the events in this paper was honest - "Nothing can exceed the love of the Republicans for the colored man on election day; but when it comes to electing them to office they are not so loving and generally vote for the white candidate.":
Ellis (Kansas) Review, Friday, April 6, 1888
The next day, a newspaper reported that Green Currin understandably had "very little to say":
North Topeka Daily Courier, Friday, April 6, 1888

Spirit of Kansas (Lawrence, Kansas)
April 14, 1888 page 4
This article in the Lawrence, Kansas newspaper summarized the impact of Green Currin's loss the best:  "... the feeling is as prevalent north as it is south that this is a white man's government . . .The negro has about gained the summit of his political recognition, both north and south,. . . .It is clearly settled in the north that the colored man is not wanted - he will not be tolerated as an office seeker - not even in Kansas. He may yet secure now and then unimportant positions, just to keep up a show, and to bait the colored vote, but that is all. We may talk and moralize all we will about race prejudice, but it exists, and will invariably show itself whenever a colored man is put for office, ... Herein lies the significance of the late defeat of G. I. Currin for police judge of the city of Topeka. The people did not want and would not have a colored police judge. . . The negro in Kansas will hereafter be treated liberally with taffy, but it is doubtful if he gets upon a ticket of either party."

Despite the discouraging result of the election, Currin does not seem to have sworn off politics completely.  Within weeks, he had thrown his hat into the ring to be his ward's representative to the statewide Republican Convention. He also continued working as a Topeka police officer until 1889.
1888 Topeka, Kansas City Directory
G. I. Currin listed as Police Officer
Living at 1218 Logan Street


Oklahoma '89er

It is hard to know what motivated him - whether it was the political defeat, or the opportunity for a fresh start and cheap land - but in April of 1889,  46-year-old Green Currin staked a claim on 160 acres during the Land Run near Union Township in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma Territory. The following video provides a little background about the land run into this new territory of America.


Under the Homestead Act of 1862, if the Currins could stay on the land they claimed for five years and improve it, the land would be theirs free and clear.  They managed to meet these rules and five years later, Green Currin claimed his land and was granted Certificate No 208.


Green I. Currin's Homestead Certificate No. 208
Dated August 31, 1894, in Kingfisher, Oklahoma
Granting him the Northwest corner of Section 26 in Township 18
North of Range 6West of Indian Meridian in Oklahoma Territory containing one hundred and sixty acres.
Interestingly, in the course of my research, I reviewed a 1906 map of the town of Dover, where the Currins were living in Kingfisher.  I recognized many of the names of the landowners as being familiar names from here in Williamson County.  I have researched all the landowners named on the map and the key shows the following:
  • the gray plots were owned by white landowners
  • the blue plots were owned by African American landowners from states other than Tennessee
  • the pink plots were owned by African American landowners from Tennessee 
  • the yellow plots were owned by African American landowners from Williamson County, Tennessee.
U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Map, 1906
Dover, Kingfisher County, Oklahoma
Highlighted yellow portion shows G.I. Currin's 320 Acre homestead
Pink portions are other African American Tennessean homeowners
Light blue portions are African Americans from other states
Gray Plots are owned by white landowners

It seems clear that when the Currins moved to Dover, they came with friends - including Redmonds and Austins who had been with them in Topeka.
During the 1880s & 1890's Marshals often carved badges out of coins
Image: 
US Marshalls Service 

According to several articles and citations, Green Currin served as a U.S. Deputy Marshall in Oklahoma. He would have been given the job of collecting and distributing money on behalf of the federal government and the US Attorneys Office, as well as issuing warrants and enforcing federal laws. The badge shown below is of the type that Green Currin may have worn.


Oklahoma Legislator

By July of 1890, just one year after arriving in Oklahoma, Currin had been "nominated by acclamation" - by a largely white populace - to represent the 5th District in the Republican primary for House in the Oklahoma Indian Territory. 
Fort Scott Daily Monitor Friday, July 25, 1890
He went on to win the general race, and at 2 pm on Wednesday, August 27, 1890, Green I. Currin took his seat in the First Session of the Legislative Assembly of Oklahoma Territory in Guthrie. 


The Daily Oklahoman Sunday, April 23, 1939
Members of the First Session of the Legislative Assembly of Oklahoma Territory
G. I. Green is in the bottom row, far right.
The Topeka Daily Capital, Saturday, August 30, 1890
Green I. Currin.
Oklahoma Historical Society 
Publications Division, OHS



Green's arrival at the state capitol was described in the Guthrie (Oklahoma) Capital newspaper this way:
G.I. Currin, the colored member of the legislature, is on the ground. He is a man more than six feet tall, with a comanding, though pleasing address. . . . .he gives every indication of capacity.
The day after his election, in Kingfisher three white men had clubbed and seriously injured an African American named "Charlie." A reporter for the local paper described the incident as "Klu Klux [sic]" inspired. Realizing the increasing frequency of violent racial attacks against African Americans in the territory, Currin introduced Oklahoma's first civil rights legislation, House Bill 119. The following transcript shows the discussion when the bill reached the Oklahoma Council - the legislative version of the state's Senate.  At first, legislators demurred on grounds that the federal consistution already protected civil rights of citizens, and then were concerned about a typo in the bill.  Ultimately they defeated it by one vote.

Journal of the First Session of the Legislative Assembly of Oklahoma Territory
During his time in the Legislature, Representative Currin faced snide comments from his fellow lawmakers - even on the floor.  In this exchange, he confronted the rudeness head on and the offending lawmaker backed down. Interestingly, the obnoxious comment was regarding the 15th Amendment; years later Currin would be involved in one of the most important voting rights cases involving the 15th Amendment.
Independence Daily Reporter Sep_26, 1890
First Legislature of Oklahoma Territory, 1891
(2570, Virginia Sutton Collection, OHS).
Green I. Currin at the Grand Hotel, Guthrie, OT., 1891.
Photo by Elias W. Oliver, Oklahoma City, OT.
Postcard.


Currin also advocated for integrated public schools - even taking on his own party and challenging them to act in accordance with their spoken belief in equal rights. 

The Wichita Daily Eagle Wednesday, October 29, 1890

The Wichita Daily Eagle Wednesday, October 29, 1890















Ultimately, he only served one term.  It is not clear if this was his decision or if he was not nominated again by his party to run.  In either case, Green Currin paved the way for generations to follow in his path.

Masonic Leader, Strong Supporter of Education & Successful Businessman 

In 1897, when he was 49 years old, Currin was appointed to the Board of Regents of the newly created Colored Agricultural and Normal College (CANU) (now Langston University). The school was located in the all-black town of Langston and local residents raised funds to launch the school through bake sales, auctions, and donations.

In the 1900 Census, Green and Caroline were in their early 50s, living on their farm in Dover with all of their children who were now adults - Henry,  Windsor, Jennie, Thomas, and Rosa. Green and Henry were farming; Henry was renting a farm - perhaps from his father or a neighbor. Windsor and Thomas were working as farm laborers.  Also living in the household was a boarder, Elihu Harris, who was also a farm laborer.

In an article in the Topeka Plaindealer in 1906, the reporter described the economic success being made by many African Americans in the town of Dover; among those described was G. I. Currin: "Grand Master of the state of Oklahoma" who owned "240 acres, well improved, with stock, growing crops and a fine house, just completed." According to the article, Currin's wife Caroline Starnes Currin and daughter Janie Currin knew "how to entertain." Also, his three sons were "in the new strip, making money."
The_Topeka_Plaindealer_Fri__Dec_7__1906
Creek-Seminole College, Boley, Oklahoma
The New York Age
Thursday, September 20, 1906
Currin was also very involved in Masonic activities and was the Grand Master of an all-black branch of the Masons in Oklahoma. In 1906, as Grand Master, he presided over the laying of the cornerstone at the Creek-Seminole College and Agricultural Institute for Afro-Americans and Indians in Boley, Oklahoma.



Fighting for Voting Rights


Editorial cartoon, 

January 1879 

Harper's Weekly.


But all was not easy for Green Currin during this period. Despite having held one of the state's highest political offices, in 1910 he was denied the right to vote. 

When Oklahoma had been admitted to the United States as a state in 1907, it had adopted a constitution which allowed men of all races to vote consistent with the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fifteenth Amendment provided that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 

However, state legislators soon passed an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that required voters to satisfy a literacy test and a so-called "grandfather clause.." The "Grandfather Clause" stipulated that men could only vote if their lineal ancestors could vote before 1866; this effectively barred anyone whose ancestors had been enslaved. These Grandfather Clauses were in use primarily in southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia) but they were also adopted in Maryland and of course, Oklahoma.

The Coweta (OK) Courier, July 7, 1910
The Oklahoma Grandfather Clause came into force before a Congressional election was held on November 8, 1910, in Oklahoma. 


During that election, J. J. Beall and Frank Guinn - election officials in Kingfisher County - refused to allow black citizens including Green I. Currin to vote, even when they qualified under the Grandfather Clause. Those officials were indicted by John Embry, the US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, a few months later in February 1911. 
The_Daily_Ardmoreite_Sun__Feb_5__1911
Article regarding indictments of Guinn and Beall
The following fall, in late September 1911, G. I. Currin testified in federal court in Enid, Oklahoma, that he had been prevented from voting even though "his grandfather Tommy Curran, was an Irishman who had voted."  
The Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser Sept 27, 1911
Coverage of Trial of Guinn and Beall
On September 30, 1911, Guinn and Beall were convicted by a federal jury in the US District Court of depriving Currin and others of their voting rights. 

Coweta (Oklahoma) Times-Star October 5, 1911
Conviction of Guinn and Beall
However, the case was appealed and argued before the US Supreme Court on October 17, 1913
Wagoner (Oklahoma) Weekly Sayings October 2, 1913
The case was the first in which the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed an amicus curiae brief, written by its leader Moorfield Storey. The court's decision handed down on June 21, 1915,(two years after oral arguments - when G.I, Currin was 67 years old) ruled the Oklahoma grandfather clause "to be repugnant to the Fifteenth Amendment and therefore null and void." In the Court's opinion, G.I. Currin was described as having: 
"been a member of the Legislature for [Kingfisher] county and had been deputy United States marshal. He would have been entitled to vote on his ancestry, and also because of his ability to read and write, and these facts must have been known to the [election registrars]; but he was excluded from voting." Guinn v. U.S., 228 F. 103, 109-110 (1915).
Within a year, President Wilson granted the two men pardons - arguing that they were just following the law in place at the time.
 

The Daily Oklahoman Tuesday Jan_18, 1916
Although the Grandfather Clause was struck down as unconstitutional, the state legislature immediately passed a new law restricting voter registration. It provided that "all persons, except those who voted in 1914, who were qualified to vote in 1916 but who failed to register between April 30 and May 11, 1916, with some exceptions for sick and absent persons who were given an additional brief period to register, would be perpetually disenfranchised." In other words, African American voters who had been excluded under the previous Grandfather Clause were now given just a small window in which to register to vote. It wasn't until 1939 when the US Supreme Court once again struck down this illegal violation of voting rights in Oklahoma. Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268 (1939). 



Grand Master of "Colored Masons" of Oklahoma Indian Territory


As the Guinn case was winding its way through the court system, Currin stayed busy with his civic and Masonic duties. By 1915 he was serving his 15th year as the Grand Master in Oklahoma's Indian Territory and had led the organization in the construction of an impressive grand lodge in Boley, Oklahoma, a wealthy all-black town. 



Currin's  masonic organization boasted 4,000 male and 2,000 female members who were active in charitable work. This article from 1915 describes the successful lodge in Boley.


The_Topeka_Plaindealer_Fri__May_7__1915
The_Topeka_Plaindealer_Fri__May_7__1915
The_Topeka_Plaindealer_Fri__May_7__1915

On August 17, 1918, Green I. Currin stepped down from his post leading his beloved Masons and he died shortly after at his home in Dover on October 20, 1918. He was buried in the Burns-Evans Cemetery near his home in Dover (shown on the map of Dover above). At the time of his death, he owned 200 acres in Kingfisher County, four horses, a wagon, a buggy and a significant number of hogs.


The Topeka Plaindealer, Friday, October 24, 1919

Next Generations

When Green Currin died, his children had begun to carry on his legacy of community work and civil rights activism.  Caroline was still living at their home in Dover with their daughters Janie and Rose.  Janie had never married. Rosie married when she was 20 years old to Robert Burns, a Pullman Porter and the couple had moved to Denver, Colorado.  However, after only ten years of marriage, Burns had died and Rosie had returned to Oklahoma to live with her parents. 

Henry Irving Currin. Green and Caroline's oldest son Henry Irving had moved more than 200 miles away to Wilburton, Oklahoma, east of Dover. In 1910 he owned a restaurant there and lived on Main Street where he was one of the only people of color in the coal mining town.  According to family history, Henry and his brother Windsor next opened Currin Brothers' Candy Kitchen with two branches - one in Tulsa and one in Guthrie, Oklahoma.


Photograph of the Currin Brothers Candy Kitchen
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Courtesy of Shayla Moon
Pictured standing back row, left to right Henry Irving Currin, Caroline Starnes Currin and Windsor Silas Currin 


In 1921, their store in Tulsa was destroyed by the Race Riots that occurred in the business district called Black Wall Street. A full exploration of the riot and the events leading up to it are beyond the scope of this blog post, but I encourage you to read more about the Riot.  
Henry moved back to Dover and took over management of his late father's farm and care of their mother who died in 1927. 

Windsor Silas Currin. Green and Caroline's son Windsor had moved to Hugoton, Kansas over 250 miles west of his parents' home in Oklahoma where he staked a homestead claim and in 1909 he married Mary Elizabeth Walker. Their wedding, uniting two prominent African American families, was announced in several newspapers.

The Hugoton Hermes December 3, 1909

The Journal (Hudson, Kansas) November 24, 1909
Wedding Portrait of Windsor Currin and Mary Elizabeth Walker
Courtesy of Family Collection
Five children were born quickly to the couple, with three surviving beyond infancy - Elizabeth, Windsor Marcellus, and Ruby Jane. Windsor was a leader in the community the way his father had been. He was elected to several terms as clerk of the School Board for Stevens County in 1916 and encouraged to run for Justice of the Peace, but declined. He was paid for his service to the School Board in coyote scalps - which could be turned in for a bounty.

The Hugoton Hermes
Dec 9, 1910
The Hugoton Hermes Friday, May 25, 1917


In 1910, Windsor was the victim of arson - the perpetrators were four women in the neighborhood who were jailed. This may have been related to Windsor's efforts to integrate the public schools. Windsor and Elizabeth were successful farmers on the family farm in Kansas through the 1940s when, at the insistence of their daughter Ruby, they moved to Denver, Colorado about 1942 in search of air that was better for his asthma.

When Windsor and his wife Mary Elizabeth left for Colorado they took with them their three adult children, one son in law, and Windsor's two sisters. Many of Green Currin's living descendants hail from this Colorado-based branch of the family.
Windsor Currin (left) with his family from left to right Elizabeth Masola (b. 1912), Ruby Juanita (b. 1917), wife Mary Elizabeth Walker and Windsor Marcellus (b. 1915)
Photo courtesy of family, circa 1927

Thomas Perkins Currin.  Finally, the youngest Currin son, Thomas Perkins Currin, was the last Currin child born in Tennessee.  He was probably just a baby when the family journeyed to Topeka in 1879. He followed his parents to Dover but in his mid-20s moved to the west coast and settled in Seattle where he worked as a teamster.  In 1910 he married his wife Eleanora. The pair appear to have made what was likely a difficult decision and took advantage of their light skin and passed as white.  Thomas was working as an expressman on the railroads. However, by 1918, the same year Green Currin died, the couple was no longer identifying as white. It is not clear if they made the decision to change how they held themselves out to the world or if they were "outed." The couple moved inland to Kittitas, Washington where Thomas was a farmer and the couple was involved in masonic activities as Green had been. In 1926, Thomas died and his body was returned to Dover, Oklahoma for burial near his father. 


The Topeka Plaindealer April 29, 1927


The following year, Caroline Starnes Currin died of a stroke in Dover. She was memorialized with a beautiful obituary.













On February 28, 2007, the state of Oklahoma recognized Green Currin's contributions to his adopted state. A portrait had been commissioned of him and it was unveiled and hung at the state legislature.
Additionally, Green Currin's remarkable history and the story of his life is profiled in educational materials distributed to Oklahoma's school children. I hope that now that his ties to Williamson County have been uncovered he can be recognized here where his story began.




And the website BlackPast.org has created this short video with some facts about this life.

Sources
  • Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971)
  • Kenneth Wiggins Porter, “Jacob Green Currin” in the Dictionary of American Negro Biography, edited by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1982)
  • Thomas C. Cox, Blacks in Topeka, Kansas: 1865-1915, A Social History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1982)
  • BlackPast.org, Currin, Green I. (1842–1918)
  • Thanks to Shayla Moon and James Morgan III for their assistance with this post.