Samuel Robert Cassius, 49-years old, an American of African descent, arrived in Logan County in 1892, when the Iowa Tribal lands were opened for settlement by land run. Cassius, along with his wife and family, probably crossed into the newly opened land from just east of
Tohee, for it is here that he settled on and obtained the patent to an 80-acre tract in what is now Iowa township. Photo at left © by John Lehr.
Who was Samuel Robert Cassius, and what is it that sets him apart from so many others of his heritage who also settled in this area? Cassius was born a slave in Virginia. His owner's financial problems led to a forced aution in 1860, when Cassius was but 7 years of age. Sixty-five years later Cassius recalled that General Robert E. Lee, a cousin of the indebted owner, had stepped in to purchase both the boy and his mother to keep them from "being sold to an outsider." His mother, "A house servent," taught Cassius to read and write, using a "John Comly Speller." In 1864, Cassius entered public school in Washington, D. C., and was the first "colored boy" to finish high school there. Cassius became a member of the Church of Christ at 22, and entered the ministry at age 24.
That ministry brought Cassius to Logan County. In a November 20, 1893 letter, written from "To-hee," Cassius seeks contributions for a "house of worship," writing that "the logs are cut, the land is donated, but it takes money to build the house."
Following the death of his first wife in 1895, Cassius married again to Miss Salina Flenoid on May 10, 1897 at the Iowa Church near Tohee.
In a later document dated March 14, 1898, Cassius is again soliciting funds, this time for the "Tohee Industrial School." This vision no doubt took shape from his "up-hill fight to obtain an education, and then not having received more than an idea of what education really is, and being entirely without a trade...I fell deeply interested in the education of boys and girls of my race." Cassius was also no doubt influenced by the work of Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee, where he would later send his own son, Amos Lincoln Cassius (1890-1982).
"Two years ago," Cassius write in 1899, "I began this work... [and] I have now completed a good building which is free from debt, but I still need books, maps, black boards, charts and one or two helpers before I can begin work." That the school building was "free from debt" was probably a result of the numerous mortgages that Cassius used his land to secure, his continued fundraising, and his sale of garden seed and other produce of his farm.
In a later appeal for funds for Negro missions, Cassius advertises his garden seed for sale, saying that "I have Vineless, Georgia Yam, Blooming Nansemond, Golden Queen, White Southern Queen and Red Bermuda Sweet Potatoes, and will send plants, post paid, for 30 cents per 100." He further urges people to "Send for 10 cents' worth of the Cassius Gold Standard Onion Seed - 1/2 oz., 10 cents, 1/4 lb., 35 cents." And still later, Cassius adds many other seeds and plants to his advertising.
Of the school Cassius writes that "we will teach trades of as many kinds as my means will allow. We will also teach as many branches of practical education as possible. Agriculture will also play an important factor in the support of the school. And best of all, there will be a night-school system that will be for the benefit of grown persons."
On a fundraising tour to Saint Louis on August 20, 1900, Cassius wrote that "Three years ago I began this work (the school), feeling that such a work was needed among the thousands of colored people who have settled in Oklahoma. I received $465, with which I built a building that will accommodate about 150 children."
Not limiting his energies to the church and school, Cassius was appointed postmaster of Tohee on July 13, 1897, and served until the post office was discontinued on January 31, 1906. Information from the United States Postal Service Historians Office show that Cassius was paid $120.13 for fiscal year 1899, $71.11 for fiscal year 1901, $40.90 for fiscal year 1903, and $29.20 for fiscal year 1905.
Cassius lost all of his personal library in a fire sometime before 1910, and that blaze may also have brought an end to his pioneering attempt at black education. No internal records of the Tohee Industrial School have yet been discovered. Cassius apparently continued to occupy that land in Tohee, with a postal address on Route 2, Meridian, until he moved to Guthrie sometime in 1917, eventually settling at 1019 E. Harrison.
During this time in Oklahoma, Cassius became known as a "father of Christianity among his people," and contunued to travel widely, throughout Oklahoma and the United States, as "the Colored Evangelist."
Cassius left Guthrie in 1922, contunuing his ministry in Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, California, and finally in Colorado Springs, where he died in 1931. The last line of his obituary notes that "The race has lost a leader, Christianity a friend, and the family a husband and father."
In 1925, Cassius offered his Christian perspective on the "race problem" in the United States in a book, The Third Birth of a Nation, hoping that his study and experience, in Oklahoma and elsewhere, would lead to "awakening of a new thought" on these issues that still trouble our country.
Although the "Tohee Industrial School and Academy" is now lost to time, the legacy of Samuel Robert Cassius continues to live on in many of the churches that he helped to build. His school was not only a pioneering work in black education in the territory, but also it was a spark that led to establishing the Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) at Langston in 1897.
**Note: This article was developed from information provided by Don Haymes of Christian Thelogical Seminary, Edward J. Robinson of Mississippi State University, Hans Rollmann of Memorial University, and Terr J. Gardner of Indianapolis; used with permission.
Anyone who has any information on the Tohee Industrial School and Academy, or on Samuel Robert Cassius is asked to contact Bob Chada
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