"COLORADO PEOPLE ONLY"
The Treaty of 1866 ended slavery among the members of the Five Civilized Tribes. The ex-slaves were called freedmen. The Indians agreed to not only free the slaves but also give each head of household 40 acres and citizenship in the tribe including suffrage. That is they all did except the Chickasaws.
The Chickasaw tribe was not only the wealthiest of the Five Nations; they were also the smallest having a population of just over 6,000 citizens. The governor and the council took a census to determine what the number of ex-slaves in the Chickasaw nation actually consisted. It turned out that the freedmen numbered nearly 10,000. One can readily see the problem.
The Dawes Commission came into being in 1887 preparing the Five Nations for allotments by registering them on their respective tribal rolls. The Atoka Agreement of 1897 required the Chickasaws to enroll their freedmen. The census performed in the 1860's showed that there were nearly ten thousand freedmen. Ex-slaves from Texas and the Old South poured into Indian Territory looking for land. When the Dawes Commission began enrolling freedmen more than sixty five thousand Negroes applied as Chickasaw Freedmen. By 1906 there were only 4,670 left who could prove their residency.
On the park's northeast boundary was an area of Sulphur known as Colored Town or black town and other less flattering names. Families such as the Ervins, Cades and Bruners lived in the area. There was a black school in the community called Dunbar until integration when all the black and white children went to school together.
The population of the black community in Sulphur once comprised more than 300 people. Many of them were employed at the hotels and bathhouses as well as day laborers. As the resort era began to decline and the mechanization of farms and construction increased the black families began moving to the big cities looking for work. Today there are very few of the old original families left.
The groups who camped and held meetings in the Park were varied. There were Baptists, Methodist, and School Teachers associations and in 1923 the Ku Klux Klan wanted to hold a rally and parade in the Park. Superintendent Morris contacted the NPS director informing him that it was against Oklahoma state law to wear the entire regalia of the KKK.
NPS Acting Director Demaray informed the superintendent that "the Department and its officers will not undertake to interfere in any case with visitors to the Parks or what they shall wear as long as they comply with existing laws, rules, and regulations."
The same day a new regulation came out for the National Park Service: "No person shall be allowed to enter or remain in any National Park or National Monument while masked or otherwise disguised so as to conceal his identity".
In the early days of the Park, there was a sign at a swimming hole at Central Campground and a sign at the entrance that read "Colored". That was the only place that colored people was to go in the Park at that time recalled a long time resident. Whites could use the swimming hole at Central Camp Ground but the blacks could not use the other swimming areas. One new CCC boy was riding in the back of a truck one day and misread the sign as "Colorado People Only".
Many times the black youngsters would go to Panther Falls at 10:00 or 11:00 at night to swim since there were no white folks there at that time. It was a much better swimming hole than the one at Central Campground.
Another elderly black resident remembered that when blacks went to the Park they could not stay too long in one place. They could go to the Bromide Springs and get water as long as they didn't "take too long". The elderly resident remembers that when he and his friends and family came to the Park they couldn't stay too long in one place. They could go along the trails and roads without much trouble but they had to "keep a stepping'".
About 1932, there was a section of the Park that was designated as the "Colored Only" area. This area had a nice swimming pool, tables but no camping area for Negro visitors. The CCC map of 1935 shows this location to be the Panther Falls area. Evidently the "colored area" had been moved at some point to Central Campground from Panther Falls about 1937.
In 1932, a National Park Service bulletin noted "Platt has swimming pool for Negroes. The swimming pool and recreational area definitely segregated last month for Negro visitors in the Park is proving highly successful. Strange to say, a little trouble was experienced during the first Park of the month for the Negroes as whites wanted to swim in the area. However this has all been straightened out. The Negroes have been very orderly and it has been found more satisfactory to place a Negro caretaker in charge of this pool than a white person".
In 1938 the CCC built a new comfort station in the colored campground now called Central Camp Ground.
In the 1940's things began to change. A former ranger remembers that when Cal Miller was the superintendent. The Regional Director was at Platt for a visit. The Director wanted to take a ride through the Park in a car. As they traveled past Central Campground the Director noticed a sign that said "COLORED AREA". "Whoa, Wait, Back up!" he said. He wanted the Superintendent to explain the sign. It seemed pretty obvious what the sign meant. The sign came down before the sun went down.
© Contributed by Dennis Muncrief, October 2006.