OCH Visits the Rentiesville Blues Festival - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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OCH Visits the Rentiesville Blues Festival

The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities is continuing to share the stories of Oklahoma’s all-Black towns by delivering recordings of February’s symposium to town leaders and historical societies.

On Saturday, September 2, Dayne Riley, the center’s assistant director, travelled to two of the towns, Clearview and Rentiesville.  After meeting with leaders of both towns, Riley attended the annual Rentiesville Blues Festival.

The All-Black Towns of Oklahoma symposium, which was organized by the center, focused on the state’s 13 remaining historic all-Black towns and brought together anthropologists, historians, and town leaders to discuss their pasts and futures. TU recorded the event to document the program and make it accessible to members of these towns who were unable to attend. Riley worked with town leaders to curate an exhibition to coincide with the symposium.

One such town leader was Clearview native, Shirley Nero, who founded the Oklahoma African American Educator Hall of Fame—located in her hometown. The nonprofit honors the state’s best educators, inducting them into the hall of fame at an annual event. The group also offers scholarships to Oklahoma high school seniors planning to attend Oklahoma universities. Nero was a crucial help during the planning of the symposium, providing advice, connections, and even several images for the accompanying exhibit.

After meeting with Nero, Riley traveled to Rentiesville to see its longtime Mayor Mildred Burkhalter, an expert speaker at the symposium.

During his trip, Riley stayed in one of town’s new cabins, which were built to enable tourism to the historic space. The town received Rural Energy for America Program and USDA Rural Development grants to build cabins for attendees of the blues festival and other visitors to the town.

Started in 1991 by Oklahoma-born guitarist D.C. Minner and his wife, Selby, the event draws nearly 3,000 people to the McIntosh County town over Labor Day weekend. While working on the all-black towns exhibition, Riley became particularly interested in the annual festival, one of many events featured in the exhibit. Selby Minner supplied one of her husband’s guitars for the exhibition. “I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Rentiesville again and to experience the festival, which is such an important piece of Oklahoma’s music scene,” says Riley. The three-day concert features 40 regional musicians like Oklahoma Ollie and Scott Ellison and constitutes one of the town’s main sources of revenue, which has helped it survive.