Langston was founded in the early 1890s by Edward P. McCabe, an African-American political activist from Kansas who had dreams of a geographical place for black autonomy. McCabe spearheaded a migration of black settlers who hoped to escape discrimination by creating a majority-black (or even all-black) state in what was then the Territory of Oklahoma. McCabe named the town Langston to honor John Mercer Langston, an educator, abolitionist and black member of the 51st United States Congress from Virginia.
Langston is one of the few all-black towns which began on what was then Oklahoma territory. Most other all-black towns started on what was then Indian Territory.
McCabe used salesmen and newspapers to advertise lots for sale in Langston. The deeds which accompanied the sale of these lots stipulated that their re-sale could only be to other African-Americans.
His efforts led to an exodus of freed slaves from Arkansas, Texas and many parts of the South. Langston, which was at one point called “The Only Distinctively Negro City in America,” encouraged many disillusioned blacks to try a new life there, but many of the black migrants remained poor.
By 1891, Langston had a population of about 200, which included a preacher, doctor, and schoolteacher. Langston is now home to Langston University, the only historically black college in Oklahoma. It was initially established in 1898 in a church.
Over the years, many prominent African-Americans were affiliated with the university, including poet Melvin Tolson, lawyer Ada Louis Sipuel Fisher, civil rights activist Clara Luper, and basketball globetrotter Marques Haynes.
A 2013 short movie about black cowboys They Die By Dawn was placed in Langston in 1890.