Route 66 filling station was refuge for African American travelers

The Threatt Filling Station, near Luther, Okla., was was the first black-owned business along Route 66. (KOKH)

The “Mother Road,” the “Main Street of America”, it was the roadway that brought America right through the Sooner State.

Fabled in song and story, Route 66 was the way to travel as it connected Chicago to Los Angeles. In between these major metropolitan areas was America, but it is not exactly the care free, easy going America we may want to picture.

For all the service stations, hotels and restaurants from St. Louis to Joplin, Missouri not everyone could just walk in and sit down.

“That was an absolute no no,” Edward Threatt recalled. He was just a child during the height of the popularity of Route 66, but his parents kept him from breaking both the spoken and unspoken rules of the “Jim Crow” era.

“They knew what we could and couldn't do, because kids they don't know they just don't know,” Threatt said of the time when African Americans were not welcome in many businesses and were forced to use separate facilities from bathrooms to water fountains.

It is against the backdrop of racism that a one-story, gabled roof, sandstone building sitting just outside of Luther truly stands out.

“I don't think you can adequately define how important [the Threatt Filling Station] was because, again, not just for people in the community but for people of color traveling Highway 66 at that time it was just absolutely vital,” Edward told FOX 25, “Not only could they stop and get gas, food, they were also able to camp on the grounds here.”

The Threatt Filling Station, built from sandstone hand quarried from the Threatt family homestead in 1915, was the first black-owned business along Route 66.

“My memories growing up here is pumping gas and cleaning windshields and putting air in tires as the cars come,” said Reverend Allen Threatt, III who, along with the rest of the Threatt family helped at the filling station.

Reverend Threatt says his grandfather Allen Threatt, Sr. was a visionary who carved out this Oklahoma oasis. It was a place where anyone, regardless of skin color could stop and get gas and a bite to eat.

Inside the Threatt Filling Station was a bathroom and the only sign on the door indicated if it was occupied or not. The campground was quite literally a life saver for travelers who, more often than not faced discrimination along the Mother Road.

“On Saturdays and Sundays, grandfather was involved with the Negro Baseball League and they played baseball right across the street over there,” Allen said.

Allen Threatt, Sr., his son Ulysses, were the main force behind the filling station. Ulysses served in the armed forces during World War II and he and his wife became a fixture in Luther.

The filling station would eventually expand to a Bar-B-Que restaurant next door. While it was his father who got all the credit, Edward says it was his master chef skills that helped produce some of the best ribs on 66.

The entire Threatt family would play some part in the business. From pumping gas, to selling sodas at the baseball games, or even cleaning up the morning after the Saturday night dances.

“We were little boys and I would get up early the next morning and go and pick up coins on the ground where people would be dancing with the jukebox and money be falling out of their pockets,” Allen said.

These days the filling station has clearly seen better days. The Threatt family is trying to raise money to return this “Mother Road” master piece to its former glory.

“Our history, it is not just important to my family, people need to know and recognize and bringing these things to the forefront,” Edward said.

Preserving history, not to condemn the present, but to honor and remember the past.

“As black people in general we need to hold onto some of the memories and the history that our ancestors left here,” Allen said.

“We do in this country enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom but as so many people have said in the past, freedom isn't free there's always a price to be paid for it,” Allen said.

The goal, just as the original goal of the Threatt Filling Station, is to open the doors to anyone and everyone, regardless of race, color or creed. A hope that one day new generations can learn from the mistakes of the past so they can work together for a better future.

The Threatt Filling Station is on the National Register of Historic Places, and they need your help as they raise money to renovate and eventually re-open the filling station as a Route 66 tourist stop. You can donate on the family’s GoFundMe page.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off