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Muskogee History and Genealogy

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Leanna C. Clark's Story, Part 2

The first part of Leanna Celeste Young's story appeared last week. This portion begins with her ending her schooling at the John I. Gaines High School in Cincinnati, Ohio sometime about 1880 or 1881.

After leaving Cincinnati, Leanna spent a brief period teaching in Owensboro, Kentucky. Then, Leanna moved to her mother's new home in St. Joseph, Louisiana. St. Joe is located only about 25 miles north of Natchez, Mississippi where Leanna grew up.

St. Joseph was her home for one or two years. She taught school there, but this ended on July 5, 1883, when she married Herbert A. Clark, the son of her high school principal.

Leanna followed her husband back to Cincinnati after their marriage. He worked as the editor of the Afro American newspaper there. In 1893, Leanna moved with her husband to Saint Louis, Missouri, where he co-founded a new newspaper entitled Afro-American News.

The couple next moved to Columbia, Missouri before 1900. According to the census that year, Herbert Clark was teaching part time and was also a part time student.

This, too, did not last long. The couple next moved to Lawrence, Kansas where Herbert took on the duties as the "Principal Teacher" at the Haskell Institute. He was hired March 12, 1902, by the federal government to teach Indian students.

The Clarks returned to Saint Louis at the end of Herbert's teaching assignment. This is when Leanna opened her own millinery shop where she sold ladies hats and notions in the True Reformers Hall on Pine Street.

By September of 1904, the Clarks had moved to Muskogee. The couple's first residence was a wooden, one-story frame house located at 518 South Second Street.

Since Leanna was as out-going as her husband, she joined the Fortnightly Culture Club. Her musical talent quickly led to her singing a solo at a meeting in September.

Singing, however, was not Leanna's main occupation when she moved to Indian Territory. For the first couple of years she continued selling ladies hats, first at 310 South Second Street. In this shop, she sold notions, new hats and ready-made aprons.

Leanna also updated and repaired ladies' hats. She would add trim to an older hat so that it was given a fresh look.

Within a couple of years she moved her shop up to 116 South Second Street, closer to the town's business district. However, the move appears not to have improved her business traffic despite the addition of her offering to sew dresses for clients.

By 1907, Leanna Clark was back to giving music lessons out of her home. In returning to the career she loved most, she proved to the community that she was a better than average instructor.

When the Muskogee Board of Education was grappling with the issues of staffing the first African American high school, they needed to look no further than a five-year resident with superior musical training.

Leanna Celeste Clark was present the first day (September 26, 1909) Manual Training High School opened its doors. There were 111 students who sat down in their new school desks that day.

Mrs. Clark was hired at a salary of $70 per month to supervise the music training of these high school students. During her early years she also oversaw music education for students attending Muskogee's African-American elementary schools including the Dunbar School.

It is unknown when her duties of teaching elementary students ended. Leanna's teaching at the high school continued without ceasing until the summer of 1931. She died August 5, 1933 and was buried in the Hardin Memorial Cemetery on Muskogee's north side.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Leanna C. Clark's Story, Part 1

Leanna Celeste Clark was best known in Muskogee as the first music director at Manual Training High School. She started when MTHS opened on September 26, 1910. Mrs. Clark taught at there through the 1930-31 school year.

According to a 1917 article in the Muskogee Cimeter, Leanna C. Clark was born in Natchez, Mississippi. She is listed on the 1870 census under the name of "Laura Young." She was living with her mother, "Salisha" Young.

Within a decade they would become Celeste (the mother) and Leanna Celeste Young. This was a practice common among the newly emancipated slaves in the American South following the Civil War. They both would keep these forenames for the remainder of their lives.

Leanna told the 1900 census enumerator that she was born in April, 1863. If the 1870 census is any guide, she actually was a year older than she thought.

The same1917 article also reported that Leanna "passed [her] girlhood period of her life in the well-known family circle of the Johnson, relatives of the Hon. John R. Lynch."

The Johnson family she associated with was her mother's family. According the death certificate of Celeste Buckingham (the mother's name at death), her parents were Martin and Frankie Johnson.

A relative of the Johnsons was John Roy Lynch. He rose from being a Natchez slave to becoming the first African-American Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1873. He was largely self-taught by eavesdropping outside of white schoolhouses. His natural ability provided him with a path to prominence.

Leanna said that she started her music education as a young girl. 1880 was a pivotal year. She stated (in 1917) that she studied "under the highest priced and trained instructors" at both Natchez and Cincinnati.

Her first formal schooling probably occurred in one of the Freedmen Schools established by federal government after Civil War. She made a passing reference to having attended Rust College, one such school.

Her mother Celeste married Will Buckingham during the 1870's. According to the 1880 census, this couple was operating a hotel in St. Joseph, Louisiana. Leanna is listed on the census along with her mother, step-father and brother Theodore.

Further investigation showed both Theodore and Leanna were also listed as living in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1880. Finding Leanna in Cincinnati confirms her statement that she trained "under the highest priced and trained instructors."

Leanna claimed she attended the John I. Gaines High School in Cincinnati. The 1880 Ohio census confirms this because she is listed as living in the household of the Gaines High School principal, Peter Humphries Clark.

Clark was an associate of Frederick Douglass. Both were abolitionists, writers & speakers with national provenience. After the Civil War, Clark sided with both Democrat and Republican parties at different times.

Living and studying under the guidance of Peter H. Clark imparted an excellent political education at the same time Leanna was studying music in the Gaines High School. Her studies in Ohio ended in the early 1880's.

Leanna's story will continue next week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gerry Dreger's Days in Muskogee

I was leaving the Treemont Rehabilitation Center in Dallas, TX. It was September 15, 2003 and I had been visiting my mother who was recovering from major surgery.

As I was walking down the hallway, I saw up ahead a woman only six years younger than my mother. She was struggling with her wheelchair. When I reached her, I offered to help.

After I introduced myself, she said she was Geraldine “Gerry” Dreger. Her residence at the time was in Bedford, TX.

When I told her that I was from Muskogee, she said she had lived there for a brief spell during World War Two. The following is her story.

Gerry was born in a log cabin near Paris, Texas, on November 5th, 1922. She came to Muskogee when the Army transferred her husband to Camp Gruber during World War II.

Her husband was Wilbur “Bud” Dreger. Born in Michigan, he liked the roasted pecan pies Gerry baked for him.

She arrived in Muskogee and fortunately found an apartment that was located near a park and a Church of Christ. The apartment was a “four-plex” located on Okmulgee Street. The park she remembered walking to was Spaulding Park.

Gerry was pregnant at the time with her first child. A son was born in the Baptist Hospital on Sixth Street that she named William Lynn, but called him “Billy.”

Mrs. Dreger refused to go out to Camp Gruber. She said she hated riding “on the rickety bus.” Since she and Bud could not afford a car, Gerry walked almost everywhere in town.

One of her walking trips into the downtown area was to hear a preacher from her hometown of Paris. She recalled meeting a young woman at the revival. This woman was Gladys McClellan and she became Gerry’s life-long friend.

Gerry met another woman, named Anita Newberry, who was also pregnant. Anita went to a local doctor for a checkup in preparation for her upcoming delivery.

This Muskogee physician was concerned about the prospect that Anita would not be lactating enough after her child was born. He advised her to drink three beers a day in order for her to produce more milk. Anita did what she was told, but hated drinking the beer.

Gerry regularly walked into downtown Muskogee. Usually, she was going downtown during the week because the sidewalks were less crowded then.

But, she did go downtown during weekends on occasion. One time, while passing a bar one Saturday, she stopped to listen to the music coming through the doorway.

An African American boy was playing a piano in the bar. There were many soldiers standing around the bar's entrance because the room was already packed full. The piano player must have been very good because those standing out on the sidewalk could only listen to the twinkling of the keys.

Gerry paused for a minute to listen, too. When the song ended, she walked on, never forgetting the experience.

Gerry Dreger and her son left Muskogee after living here about a year. She continued following her husband as the US Army stationed him at different bases around the country. She never returned to Muskogee.

Though Gerry Dreger never returned, she retained a vivid recollection of her residence in Muskogee. She died June 13th, 2007 in Plano, Texas.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ted Hine Performing on KBIX

Two weeks ago I wrote about a high school music teacher by taking a singing quartet of girls from Oktaha to perform on KBIX. Last week I wrote about the first day KBIX broadcast over the air.

One of the performers on KBIX's opening day was the Central High School Band under the direction of Anton "Tony" Goetz. The band continued appearing in radio programs for many years afterwards.

Like the music teacher from Oktaha, Goetz also saw a way for using the radio to encourage boys to practice and excel in their musical studies. Tex Hine, one of Goetz's students, has this story about his performance on KBIX

Ted's acquaintance with radios stated off on a false note. He said that he was surprised to hear voices coming out of the family radio set the first time he heard a broadcast. His older sister wisely told him that "there were little people inside the radio doing the talking."

Ted began taking trumpet lessons from the band director in the fall of 1935. Goetz was also tutoring James Egan at the same time. One day he suggested that if the boys practiced enough, they could perform on KBIX.

Months later Goetz arranged for them to appear on the radio on a Monday afternoon. Ted said the station looked just like the ones in the black and white movies.

The boys were nervously awaiting their turn before the microphone. After all, "the most popular program on KBIX in the 1930's was an afternoon program called Muskogee Talent. Everyone in our area listened to our neighbors sing and perform on the show."

When their turn came, the announcer called the boys the "Golden Trumpeters." Ted recalled that one of the songs they played had a lot of triple-tounging that he and James blew in sequence. Though he said he no longer recalls the song's title, Ted remembered that it sounded much like the famous "Bugler's Holiday" written in 1954 by Leroy Anderson for a trio of trumpets.

Ted's father had taken a radio to work with him that day so that he would be able to listen to his son's performance. When Ted saw him that evening, he asked his father "how did our trumpet duet sound on the radio?"

Ted said, "His father hesitated for a few minutes before saying that we sounded "okay" for as young as I must have appeared to be. I asked him what he meant by that and he said the announcer asked us to tell the radio audience our name, how long we have been playing the trumpet and our age."

Ted's father recounted his answers like this. "He said I stepped up to the mike and said, My name is TED Hine. I have been playing the trumpet for NINE YEARS. . . and I am now NINE MONTHS old."

Ted Hine concluded this amusing story long enjoyed by his family by saying "that was the only time James and I played together and I think we were the only performers that day." The following fall, when school started again, Ted joined the All Boys Marching Band at the invitation of his tutor and band director, Tony Goetz.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

KBIX's First Day

Seventy-five years ago this past May Day, a major event affecting an area of eight counties in size occurred in Muskogee. This was the Friday in 1936 that KBIX began radio broadcasting.

KBIX studios took up five offices on the ninth floor of the Barnes Building at 228 Wall Street. Their radio signal was broadcast on 1500 kilocycles (1,500,000 cycles). The signal had 100 watts of power.

The radio tower was 179 feet tall. Iron workers built a few weeks before KBIX began broadcasts. The tower was atop the ten-story, 110 feet tall, building.

KBIX hired W. LaVell Waltman to serve as the station's program director. LaVell served as an announcer for three years at KGFF, Shawnee's radio station. This experience helped Waltman to corral and manage more than forty different speakers and performers on KBIX's first broadcast.

The KBIX station had two studios for announcers and performers. Studio A was large enough for orchestras. Studio B, being smaller, was used for smaller groups.

The station's first sign-on occurred at 7:00 am on May 1st, 1936. The first program was called "Top O' the Morning." It featured Leslie Wells and His Orchestra. It was sponsored by the First National Bank sponsored. The orchestra would play again at noon and then for another hour starting at seven o'clock.

Next there was fifteen minutes for a daily devotional. The Reverend Hobart Cox, who initiated this segment, is remembered by Ted Hine as the long-time director of the Gospel Rescue Mission.

Many of the performers who helped fill the time slots that day were singers or instrumentalists because music is so suited for the medium of radio. The first local talent to appear on air was Mary Delia Hurt. She was sponsored by Durnil's store.

Ms. Hurt was born in 1916 and lived in Checotah before graduating from Muskogee Central High and attending the Muskogee Junior College. Before moving to Dallas and becoming a Braniff Airways stewardess, she was known in Muskogee as a popular blues and "torch" singer. She performed for fifteen minutes after Rev. Cox.

Members of the Phoenix and Times-Democrat editorial staff were selected for providing the news. Just before nine o'clock that morning, KBIX aired its first newscast with H. I. Keifer at the microphone. Jim Lucas gave the nightly news. Paul A. Bruner served as the news director and also was the voice for the 1:15 pm broadcast.

John Gulager provided fifteen minutes of comments welcoming everyone in the listening audience. Known as another of the Oklahoma rope artists similar to Will Rogers, Gulager was well liked for his support of the American Legion and for his versatile dialog. He had previously appeared on the WLS radio station in Chicago before being asked to participate in the KBIX inauguration.

Some of the other musical performers included Ouita Mae Harris on accordion, Smoky Woods and his Oklahoma Playboys, Franklin Whitehead on organ, singers Juanita Newmeyer and Ralph Nicholson, Bill Hillhouse on piano and Frater Greer and His Swing Orchestra.

Muskogee's Central High School band and its director, Anton Goetz, also performed for a half hour starting at one-thirty. Goetz continued to be associated with the radio station for years to come. Next week's article will show how he worked behind the scene to promote KBIX.

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