In a fitting tribute to one of the state’s first civil rights leaders, the Oklahoma House of Representatives dedicated a portrait of Green I. Currin, an African American who served in the state’s first territorial legislature, as Black History Month came to an end Wednesday. The portrait, by Oklahoma native Timothy C. Tyler, was sponsored by local businessman Russell Perry and commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund.
“Currin was a true pioneer in every sense of the word. He was the first African American to serve in the Oklahoma territorial legislature, he also introduced the first Civil Rights bill,” said Ford, president of the fund. “This will be yet another painting at the State Capitol showcasing the strength of the human spirit.”
Currin was born in the early 1840s in Tennessee. Following emancipation, he lived in Nashville until he joined the great westward “exodus” movement. By 1877, he lived in Kansas, eventually establishing himself as a lawman in Topeka. Showing an interest in politics, Currin campaigned as the Republican nominee for the elected position of police judge but lost despite the fact that Topeka had fifteen hundred more registered Republican voters than Democrats.
Currin was not deterred. He staked out a claim in the Land Run of 1889 near Union Township in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma Territory. He now had the support of his fellow Republican voters and became one of five delegates from the county elected to the House of Representatives which convened in August 1890. The day after his election, three white men clubbed and seriously injured an African American in Kingfisher. Realizing the increasing frequency of violent racial attacks against African American in the Territory, Currin saw the need for legislative action and introduced the state’s first civil rights legislation, House Bill 119. The bill proposed penalties for racial violence, but failed by one vote.
Currin served only one term in the Assembly but continued to perform as a respected public servant. He served as Deputy United States Marshal and was appointed to the Colored Agricultural and Normal University (Langston) Board of Regents in 1897. He also held the position of grand master of the St. John Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. Masonic Order of Oklahoma for the last nineteen years of his life.
He and his wife Caroline had five children: Henry, Janie, Winsor, Thomas and Rosie. Currin died at his home in Dover on October 21, 1918, and was buried in Burns cemetery.
The Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund has commissioned over 60 pieces of original art for the Oklahoma State Capitol and selected other locations at no cost to taxpayers. These works of art represent various moments in Oklahoma’s rich and colorful history and several of Oklahoma’s famous citizens.
“When asked by Senator Ford if I would participate and be the sponsor of this territorial legislator, I was deeply honored,” said Perry. “While I was not that familiar with Green Currin, the timing was perfect as this is Black History month. That was not my intention when I first agreed to participate in the program, but I’m very pleased with how this has turned out.”
Russell Perry, like Currin, is a trailblazer. He is a businessman, banker, community leader, former state official, publisher and broadcaster. Through the years, he has utilized his talents to serve the African American community. Governor Frank Keating appointed Perry to serve as his Secretary of Commerce making him the first African American to serve in that position. He founded the Black Chronicle in 1979 which has grown to be the largest weekly paid newspaper in Oklahoma. Then in 1993, recognizing the African American community was not being served by radio in Oklahoma City, Perry bought a daytime AM station, what is now known as KRMP. He then purchased FM stations in Tulsa, Lawton, Duncan and Anadarko. Today, Perry Publishing & Broadcasting is the largest independently owned radio group in Oklahoma. Its network of eleven stations reaches 99-percent of the African American community.
Timothy Tyler has been an artist all of his life taking his first commission for an oil painting at age 14 and exhibited at Anderson’s Gallery in Oklahoma City by age 16. He was the only artist in the U.S. to be accepted into three consecutive Oklahoma Art Center Shows in 1980, 1981, and 1982, and also the only artist to show bronze sculpture as well as oil paintings. Today, his works can be found all over the world in both public and private collections. He is a member of the Portrait Society of America and has been a signature member of Oil Painter of America for 12 years. He has been featured in numerous art publications throughout his career including The Artist magazine, Southwest Art and Art of the West.
"I was honored to be selected as the artist for the Currin portrait. The project was challenging considering there is only one known photo of Currin in existence, but hopefully I captured his essence in a manner that pleases everyone," said artist Tim Tyler. "I am also excited that my work will be on permanent display in the Oklahoma State Capitol."
The portrait of Currin, along with other works of art commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc., can be found on the Internet at www.oksenate.gov.