Embedded above, “Oklahoma: A Past Preserved” is a 12-minute film about the history of Oklahoma. Made in 1975 by the Oklahoma Historical Society, the film captures nearly 30,000 years of the state’s history. It was surprisingly ahead of its time in many ways, including a segment devoted to the all black town of Boley, Oklahoma.
Conversely, the short film is also representative of its moment in time. The tragic plight of Oklahoma’s Native American population is highlighted, but the depth of the tragedy is not completely done justice. From a pop-culture standpoint, there are a lot of gems. From the narrator’s groovy, brown corduroy to the early synthesizer-driven flashback scene music and the soaring existential writing, the footage exudes a 1970s vibe.
“Oklahoma: A Past Preserved” was recently utilized in the opening scenes for an episode of the John Grisham Netflix documentary series “Innocent Man,” about a string of murders in Ada, in the early 1980’s and the controversy surrounding them. The moment a friend posted an Instagram story of the clip that uses “Oklahoma: A Past Preserved,” from the Netflix series, I immediately went on the hunt for the original source. I quickly found it on the Oklahoma Historical Society’s YouTube account. In the closing credits, it lists Bob Blackburn, who is now the executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, as an adviser to the film.
I was transfixed from the minute the film started. The retro ’70s soundtrack, the mildly psychedelic-inspired writing and the subject of Oklahoma history was such an interesting mix. I had never seen anything like this in my years of YouTube video wormholes watching vintage documentaries like James Burke’s Connections from the BBC or the classic OETA series Back In Time. It made me want to see a more in-depth look at Oklahoma’s history, and I have been on an Okie-history kick ever since.
I think I keep coming back for the deliciously inspiring writing of the film by Marshall Riggan, complimented by the narrator’s speaking cadence and tone. I have rarely encountered such inspiring descriptions of the collective human spirit of Oklahoma. Riggan writes that we are all a bridge from the past projecting our hopes and dreams into the future, which is a reminder to be an active participant in our society and to focus on leading with love.
Key quotes from ‘Oklahoma: A Past Preserved’
“The drama of Oklahoma has been performed by a cast of characters marvelous in their diversity. The beauty of our society can be not so much in our similarity but in our differences; one from another.”
“Oklahomans have always been builders. It is one of our finest qualities. But what we have built is more than merely structures upon the Earth. Buildings are simply symbols of something far more powerful. Together, we have built a society.”
“…An epic adventure filled with a remarkable cast of characters performing unforgettable roles. During that drama of more than 30 centuries, the players created new ways of life. Molding old traditions to fit new environments. In their tracks they left artifacts, shelters, buildings, towns and landmarks, which were unique signs of their collective experience. Much of that legacy has survived, forming a kind of bridge between the present and the past. It is a legacy that can teach us much about yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”