In 1910, Montana’s African American population constituted a vibrant community—seemingly on the precipice of growth and prosperity. By 1920, however, that growth faltered and the signs of decline were evident. Over the next decade, the population of the black community atrophied to nearly half its numbers from 1910, never again to recover. In researching numerous family and individual histories over the last three years, a key point of ambiguity in many African American narratives centers on why they left Montana. Leading up to the tumultuous social, economic, and environmental conditions that gripped the state starting in the late 1910s, new and unique western structures of racism were already in place. Consequently, this produced disproportionate hardships and bleak conditions for the black community.
This lecture by Anthony Wood will explore the history of black Montanans and their experiences in the early twentieth century. Through stories about the rise and fall of black night clubs in Helena, Buffalo Soldiers, homesteaders, unions, and other narratives in Montana’s history, we will come to a better understanding of the historical experiences of our fellow Montanans, and why so many chose to leave.