Old Zulu : Martha Fleming

Artist rendering of Martha Fleming
by Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015.
She stood 6 feet tall; had a low and strong voice;
was a leader in the early
African American community
as business woman,
community activist and colorful character.

Her name was Martha Fleming, but every one called her "Old Zulu", and she ran the prostitution in African-American Oklahoma City until about 1909. Born in Virginia, there is little known about this woman other than the sometimes slanted accounts reported in local news articles and court records. She is profiled, again with a biased brush, in McGill's early, agenda-driven, account of the rough and rowdy early days of Oklahoma City.  She apparently was the dominant figure who kept the girls on "Alabaster Row" (believed to be the local brothels catering to African American men located on California Street) in line, operated in her own establishment or area outside of the city limits, east of the railroad tracks on Grand Ave. (Now Sheridan).

"Zulu" or "Zoo",as she was sometimes called, seems to emerge in the early days of the town.  She was believed to be a either a pawn or a collaborator of a much reviled Madame "Big Anne" (Anne Wynn Bailey). Thus she is seen as either a link to the African American vice and the money that could be made there or as mirror professional who functioned in the segregated reality of the times. Whichever was the truth, together, they managed a sizeable portion of the action to be found in Oklahoma City's "Hell's Half Acre." Her regular domain, the area of east Grand, just past the Santa Fe Depot may have been used by a variety of individuals for multiple purposes. The area, just after the run and for a long time later, was outside of town limits and thus beyond the sometimes inept or political motivated city police force.

The south side of "Hell" was called "Alabaster Row" and it generally assumed this was a line of establishments with African-American or non-white women. This may be true in full or in part.  Not enough objective evidence has been seen by this writer yet to define it strictly along those lines.  It is known, from establishments and writings from other locations (Leadville and San Francisco, etc.) that 'alabaster' was sometimes a term used to describe these women of the night. They were sometimes likened to marble statues of loveliness and perfection. There could have been a little of both involved here. It does seem strange that such a line of houses would exist on California to the south and most identify "Old Zulu's" domain as the E. Grand Ave. area across the tracks. It may be there were two groups catering to altogether different clienteles.  Many of the gambling, drinking, or carousing dens in "Hell" were a broad spectrum selection. Low dives rubbed shoulders with fine Belgian carpets and cheap 'rot-gut' was just across the street from full bodied wines of the finest label. The outside of town places may have catered to individuals who could not afford to come into town, for economic, comfort,  or recognition reasons.
Most newspaper and early descriptions seem to agree that Martha was a tall woman of tremendous strength.  She stood approximately 6 feet. She always carried a pistol on her and usually down her dress.  She sometimes wore a jacket and work boots.    She appeared to be many things from petty thief, to drunk, to drug user, political activist, and con artist. What ever she might have become, her Achille's heel was clearly an addiction. She was known to get a little energetic while under the influence of liqueur or heroin/cocaine. One instance, it took several full grown police officers to get her to the tank to sleep off her over indulgence and she tore up the jail and wounded another prisoner before she finally came down from the high of the stimulant.

Descriptions of these women can prove as fascinating and insightful as a photograph.  "Big Annie" was drawn in local papers as a fleshy, mean-faced, man-like woman used to pushing her weight around to keep control in Oklahoma City.  Social attitudes are apparent in the artistic renderings of her during a famous legal contest in 1908.  Likewise, social attitudes are prevelant in the label given Martha, she was tall, powerful, and wild.  Unrest in Africa at the time provided a new vocabulary as the Zulu army battled European armies for dominance.   She was then the archetypal savage black woman, "Old Zulu."  In both instances, part of the problem was they were women operating out of the acceptable boundaries of society, women acting indepently and  having some level of success. Lessor issues had to do with race and addictive behaviors aligned with preceptions of social status. In both women society had outcasts due to the work they did and so less focus was on the race of either woman.

Early Baptism in Canadian River
Both woman were apparently successful (if gauged by length of time they worked in Oklahoma City) in their line of work.  Both women apparently had connections within their social spheres and some degree of influence (although it is unknown if this influence was always legal ; blackmail could have been a tool used by both women).  This, however, was the life society allowed these women who operated outside the law but whose presence was often accepted as a social necessity.  

She was a regular visitor to the city lockup and had one of the longer arrest records in city history.  At one point, she was sent to jail (1895 and to Lansing in Kansas in 1906). Local law may have just grown tired of the swinging door of her pattern of misconduct.  

In 1907,  she was converted in a service conducted by the mission  housed where the notorious old "Blue Front Saloon" had operated. This was no doubt the holiness-pentecostal mission led by Harry Lott that became one of the first Pentecostal churches west of the Mississippi.

Like "Big Annie", "Old Zulu", is a rare and unique piece of the puzzle that is Oklahoma City history. Without all the history - the warts and the tiaras - the story is just not complete. The reality of addiction (sex, liquer, and drugs) is often overlooked when examining behavior of people in certain historic eras. In the middle of the Victorian-Edwardian period such behaviors were viewed as moral weaknesses of the lower classes. No  leeway  was given for addiction problems, life stresses, or social dynamics. 

Who was this early business woman of Oklahoma City? Where did she come from, what struggles did she have, and what happened to her after this brief window of time?  

The women like Annie and Zulu could be marginalized, scorned, jailed, and preached about - but they could not be ignored. People might not have liked the businesses they conducted but they were definitely some of the earliest women in any business in the early days of "Hell's Half Acre." 

--Marilyn A. Hudson (c)
NOTE: If you are a descendent of this woman, I would love to hear from you and share her story in more detail. Contact me at marilynahudsonATyahoo.com


St. Luke's Hospital, Wellington, Kansas

Personal collection of M.A.Hudson
The original hospital opened about 1910 and was sponsored by the Episcopal church.   In the 1920's a larger facility was built and was added to and finally torn down and a new faciluty built there. Today the hospital lives on as part of the Sumner County Medical Center.   Wellington, like many communities, changed vastly from its early foundings to its current form.  I called this location home for all of my life til I was about twenty, yet I never knew the majority of the town had been destroyed in a tornado in the early years. Huge buildings had once dotted its cityscape and fine homes had been built, destroyed, forgotten, and simply not spoken for decades. I think of this when someone decries some conspiracy theory saying no one could keep a secret for very long.   Yes they can.


The Dance of Death : An E.T. Connection?

close-up of figure
In the 1860's a surprising mural was revealed during renovations at Totentanz von St. Marien in Berlin, Germany.  Known as The Dance of Death, the illustrations are part of a 22 foot long mural and are very interesting in light of what is seen as a 20th century phenomenon, the extra terrestrial or E.T.

The nude figures with the lack of facial features (eyes, nose, mouth but that is all) are considered by most to be a personification of death. It was probably done in the late 1400's. It indicates that the large headed blank faced creature of modern myth may be a reflection of a much older concept reflecting the ever present presence of death. Always near and always collecting souls.

Of course, ancient alien enthusiasts might suggest the commonality is based on a shared extra-terrestrial experience spanning the centuries and expressed differently by culture. Thus middle ages artists depicted them as tall, thin while modern societies depicted them as (mostly) short and pale.

A friend traveled to Europe, ran across this interesting find and brought it to my attention. I urge anyone to take the time to visit this fascinating church and learn more of its interesting history as revealed in these, and other, art works.  Learn more here.
Section of a poster



In 1904 Oklahoma City there was a strange sight that  met residents and visitors looked down South Broadway one chilly spring day. Marching casually up from Reno street, yet with a destination in mind, were two men, John Aiken and James Sharp, a woman, Melissa Sharp, and a 12 year old boy, Lee Sharp. 

Declaring himself "Adam God" Sharp would prove an interesting character. What was really unusual about this incident was they were all stark naked.

Arrested, charged with lunacy, and ordered out of the state, they were back in 1906 in a cult community, Eden, in south Oklahoma county.

A few years later, 1908, the group (which now included a second in command, Louis Pratt) had gone to Kansas City.  There, they had caused a riot where five people died.   Sharp, and possibly his wife and others, were ordered to prison for his role in the riot.

The group have been a part of the Morman faith or confiscated some of the terms and teachings of the "Adam God" doctrine of Brigham Young, mixed in some extreme evangelical elements and bits and pieces of a lot of things. Not much has been found explaining the doctrinal aspects of this strange cult but it is clear that they were considered bizarre and out of the ordinary.  For most people in the Edwardian era, amusements were where they could be found and a group marching naked down a main city street had to have been worth a chuckle or two.  

NY Times
NY Times



Ripped straight from today's headlines! Isn't that the way the old movie promos went?  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." (Second Amendment of the US Constitution)

We hear a lot of discussion about changing this clause, about its outdated nature and how it conflicts with a modern ethos of society.  George Washington realized one brutal truth of political and social structures and that it is capable of great evil: "Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."   The Bill of Rights and those amendments were intentionally created to act as a buffer to protect the people from that fearful potential of any government to be a dire master.

In the second amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms the argument is often that there is no need for this since we have a military, we have a national guard,  and we have police.

We interpret militia in terms of radical extremism and potential terrorism. Instead it was neighbor with neighbor in time of need.  I would argue anytime people come to the aid of other people they are serving as a militia.  Not all battles involve bullets.

In historical research, however, it is necessary to look at things in their context.  How did those signers of the documents of freedom understand the term militia?

The term militia is derived from an abstract Latin noun and its recognized definition has been an army composed of ordinary - not military professional- citizens. It was the ability of the individual to be the army which was sought in such situations.  They were not fretfully waiting for someone to come to their rescue or their aide. They were not expecting some vague 'someone else' to defend their land, liberty, property, life, and sacred honor.

The idea dates back to early Anglo-Saxon days but the term may date back to only the late 1600's.  It was expected that every able bodied man would be able to pick up his weapon and rush to the aid of King and Country in the event of national emergency such as an invasion or hostile takeover.

The militia of the colonial period was crucial to protect the citizens of an area from hostile encounters of any type ranging from hostile Native tribes, invading armies, or other groups bent on hostilities.  The British army was far away, sometimes too far away to arrive in time to assist, and so locally prepared individuals were a must.  The British depended as much on these locally armed individuals as much as the settlements did.  

Remember communication was slow and a call for help might be answered too late.  Were none armed a clear and easy path to major settlements, supplies, and control of the colonies would have been presented to any hostile force intent on takeover.

Add to the dangers mentioned over time of a threat from the British government itself.   As tensions between British rule and colonial life began to heighten.  As the British raised taxes repeatedly.  As they refused to listen to complaints or grievances.   As they refused any representation of the Colonials in the rules and decision making process.  As Colonials were forced to open their homes to board officers   Forced to share their limited food and supplies whenever a passing British army troop wanted. They were stressed to make enough to pay the increasing taxes and keep their homes, farms, and businesses afloat. 

James Madison said : "A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best most natural defense of a free country. "

John Adams said : "The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws."

Benjamin Franklin said :  "Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

John Adams said:  "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.   Jefferson's "Commonplace Book," 1774_1776, quoting from On Crimes and Punishment, by criminologist Cesare Beccaria, 1764

Patrick Henry said, "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government."

A people ignorant of their history are always doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past. (mah)

Given the reality of the government becoming an absolute entity that corrupts absolutely, and the downward spiral of the abusive government seen in the Colonial period rising once more, and the need emerging to protect body, property and family from the forces unleashed in such a setting, is there not still the potential need for a militia?  Especially a militia defined as the prepared, armed and capable individual?  

As to the arguments.

We do not need a militia because we have the military.  The military are professional soldiers under the direction of the government and the law. If such a group, like the British government under King George or the military under Hitler, abuse that privilege and ignore the law, what is the recourse of the individual? If an outside force invaded or the standing military was decimated, what then? Heller has observed that anytime the rights of the people are mentioned int he Constitution it is predicated on the individual.  To paraphrase, "who you gonna call?" A group, a militia, a social anything is always comprised of individuals.

Militias are all just extremists, terrorists and radicals.  Sometimes that is the case, in some rare instances in the Civil War the militias, or state volunteers, disintegrated into marauders under poor leadership. Radical extremists with agendas of hate and terror have emerged. Sometimes there have also been periods when government failed to be the best it could be and devolved into something less than it should have been.  Like Washington noted, government is force and Madsion noted the Constitution was for moral people; sometimes our government and morality have been strangers.  The result was always a time of shame. No one calls for the eradication of the government though and so it must be recognized that there are these 'blips' sometimes.  Course corrections to realign the national moral compass are needed and we go on, hopefully having learned something along the way.

It is a complex issue, made more so by highly charged emotional, political, and social forces at work in the discussion.  Let us hope there is discussion and we do not devolve into shouting, vilifying  and exclusion.  Let us hope, also, that we do not throw the Constitutional baby out with the muddied waters of this highly charged topic.


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