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April 4, 2001

Historian's Notes

In my opinion, Oklahoma has some of the most confusing liquor laws in the country. Some of the blame for the tangle of local and state ordinances stems from our entry into the Union as a dry state. The story of Oklahoma's battle with booze provides for an interesting foray into our state's history.


Chronicles of Oklahoma. (Winter 1998-99).

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories from our state's past.

Oklahoma has the distinction of being the only to state to come into the union with prohibition already written into its constitution. The element of prohibition was introduced into the constitution as a holdover from the twin territory days when prohibition was a federally mandated way of life in Indian Territory. As the two territories became one, and eventually a state, the law of prohibition was added to first the territory and then the state. Prohibition, though popular enough in Oklahoma to survive for more than fifty years was always a disputed law. More than ten times the issue came up before a vote of the people, and each time the pro-prohibitionists won by a small measure. Despite the fact that technically the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol in Oklahoma was illegal, the bootlegging industry flourished.

Alcohol in all forms was present and easily available throughout the state during most of the dry years. Sometimes pressured by law enforcement officials sometimes not, the bootleggers and importers of illegal liquor kept those who wanted it supplied with alcohol. Oddly enough it was attempts to crack down on the illegal trade in booze that led to the final repeal of prohibition in Oklahoma.

The gubernatorial race of 1958 was a raucous election with the controversy between prohibition and repeal providing most of the debate material. With the attention of the state focused on prohibition steps to control the illegal flow of booze increased. The 1958 crackdown on illegal sales and manufacturing of liquor was more intense than at any other time in state history. Road blockades, raids and border patrols were increased to what today seems ridiculous levels. Yet governor Edmondson was adamant about presenting a consistent policy of prohibition: "If liquor is illegal in Oklahoma, then letís make it so." The state's booze brigade swept everything and everyone in its path. Numerous state officials were embarrassed in raids and confiscations. Cities, hotels and other businesses lost massive amounts of revenue from the now impossible traffic in liquor. With the actual enforcement of the anti-liquor laws many people found their lives changed in ways they had not intended or desired. At the next possible opportunity, April 7,1959, the citizens of the state turned out to turn down prohibition. It has been said of the vote that was held this week in 1959, that with it Oklahoma was finally ushered into the modern era.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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