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Kalenda Eaton Selected as Director of Oklahoma Research for National Park Service’s Black Homesteader Project

Kalenda Eaton Selected as Director of Oklahoma Research for National Park Service’s Black Homesteader Project

Portrait of Kalenda Eaton

Dr. Kalenda Eaton

A University of Oklahoma faculty member has been named as director of Oklahoma research for the National Park Service’s signature Black Homesteader Project, which recently received additional funding.

Kalenda Eaton, an associate professor in the Clara Luper Department of African and African American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, will lead a team of researchers, students and members of an advisory board focused solely on Oklahoma. She will guide data collection, archival and interpretive research, publications, digital scholarship and community affairs.

The multi-year grant expanding the Black Homesteader Project marks a new collaboration between OU, the National Park Service and the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The project is a decade-long partnership between the Center for Great Plains Studies and the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska. Current and former researchers have written a historic resource study, conducted oral histories with descendants and created digital educational products – including interactive maps –about six Black communities in Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.

Working with OU, researchers will explore the lives of Black homesteaders in Oklahoma in the turn of the century, and examine connections between land ownership, citizenship and upward mobility for many who had recently been enslaved. Project director Mikal Brotnov Eckstrom is also developing a traveling photography exhibit. 

“Oklahoma is a state where the histories of formerly enslaved Americans and the forced migrations of many Native Nations come together,” Eckstrom said.  “These histories help us understand the needs and desires of those intertwined histories with that of a burgeoning nation.”

“I am excited to lead the Oklahoma research team and enhance initiatives sponsored by the National Park Service,” Eaton said. “As we build upon and honor the prior scholarship of Black historians, educators and genealogists, we will not forget the experiences of those who were brought to the region or sought refuge and built lives in western America against all odds. Ultimately, I would like the expansion to address how multiple connected and complicated histories within the territories and the state work to tell the story of the region.”

At OU, Eaton – an experienced academic administrator, Black western studies scholar and noted advocate for the humanities – was recently awarded an Arts and Humanities Faculty Fellowship and a Digital Scholarship Fellowship for her ongoing research on African Americans in the Great Plains region. Eaton currently serves on the Oklahoma Humanities Board of Trustees and has been an Associate Fellow with the Center for Great Plains Studies since 2005.

To date, the larger project has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the 400 Years of African American History Commission, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund – National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Department of the Interior-National Park Service.

For more information about the project visit:

This article was originally published by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Article Published:  Wednesday, August 25, 2021