Devine records Altus black history
ALTUS—Did you know that at one time Altus had five black deputy sheriffs or that Ray Charles and B.B. King once played here?
One Altus woman, Monetta Devine, took it upon herself to record the black history of Altus in three volumes of books called “From the Black Side of Altus.”
“I wanted to do this because there was a book written about the history of Altus and not one black person was in the book,” she said. “Not one, so I said this is the time that something needs to be said about some blacks.”
Devine went to the newspaper and radio stations and asked for people to send pictures and stories of their families. She received hundreds of family portraits and told the stories that people sent stories that people who have lived here all their lives may not have known. She began the book in 1987 and completed it six years later. It was published and sold in 1994.
“People sent me photos from all over,” Devine said. “I just wish I would have had the money to have it published the way it should have been. I took the information that they gave me and I added to this information and made it something that was delightful to read. It’s some of the most hilarious stories that you ever want to read. It’s just so interesting that it will just keep you reading and reading and reading.”
In Volume One, Devine has a special section devoted to her experiences of growing up on Crain Street and how every adult looked out for each other’s children.
“You could sleep hot summer nights with your windows and doors open and you weren’t bothered at all. Some people slept on a bed at night under a tree. Crain Street persons were concerned about each other and showed that concern at all times,” she wrote.
Volume One also tells the history of early settlements of blacks in Altus starting in the 1900s. Stories were told of the first businesses in Altus that were operated by blacks and black doctors. Family stories include those about Mary Wright, the Oliver family, the Dagget family, the Crowley family and others that resided in the community.
“We had five black deputy sheriffs in 32,” Devine said. “Mr. Savage was the sheriff and Altus was a ‘Boomtown’ then. Boomtown meaning big, running, gambling, hustling. Ray Charles used to play out of Altus. B.B. King, Big Joe Turner, Mr. Melvin, who had lots of places. He had the Coconut Club. He had the Hideaway ... I at one time had a beauty shop down on Crain Street, hustling people were there. I did hair sometimes until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Volume Two of the book tells the history of black churches, which include St. John Baptist Church, Macedonia Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church and the Church of God and Christ. Also in the second volume, it tells the history of Lincoln School.
Volume Three ends the collection with stories of local families and monthly calendars with historical facts about blacks. Hundreds of pictures are displayed in the books. Collages of family portraits are also on some of the pages.
Devine’s family history is told in the books. She was born in 1933 to Purthy and Beatrice Devine. She is the youngest of two siblings, a brother, Lonnie Allen and a sister, Jeanie Jackson. She graduated from Lincoln High School as salutatorian in 1950. She attended Langston University after she received a scholarship from the VFW Post Ladies Auxiliary with the help of O.B. Grimmit. She also attended Texas Southern University, Western Oklahoma State College and Eastern Oklahoma State College. She was married to Master Sgt. Herman Roberts. They had one child, Dr. Robbie Steward. She later married Climon Quarles. The couple had three children, Tina Quarles-McKinnis, Lonnie Quarles and Whitney Quarles. She and Quarles were married for 23 years.
Devine says that the books could not have been done without the efforts of Jodean McGuffin Martin, Phyllis Paul Williams and Jean Wilson. She would also like to thank the people that sent pictures and stories. The books are available to read at the Altus Public Library in the genealogy section, but cannot be checked out. Not all of the histories of black families in Altus are told because information was not sent in. She says that she feels it is very important for families to read about the history of Altus.
“People will find stories that they have never heard of before,” Devine said. “The stories are comical and sad. There are stories of white and black families. It will benefit them to take the time to read them.”
This article was found in the Altus Times about four years ago. The book can be found in the Altus Library. My interest stems from in Altus Oklahoma because of Floyd and Mary Lomax Mitchell and their son Alford Mitchell. Also Pauline Mitchell Martin. These are my daughter's line.