Tyler museum honors oil magnate for 92nd anniversary of oil boom

The oil broker and civil rights activist traveled from Oklahoma to East Texas in the 1930s.
The Texas African American Museum celebrated the 92nd anniversary of the East Texas oil boom with a focus on Joseph Jacob “Jake” Simmons Jr.
Published: Oct. 30, 2022 at 12:08 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The Texas African American Museum celebrated the 92nd anniversary of the East Texas oil boom with a focus on Joseph Jacob “Jake” Simmons Jr.

The oil broker and civil rights activist traveled from Oklahoma to East Texas in the 1930s in search of oil. He’s known as an oil magnate and a wildcatter.

“He, like the other oil magnates, made the oil industry what it is today in production and distribution and in public wealth...he helped to develop it,” said Ilene Gezdone, a volunteer at the East Texas oil museum in Kilgore.

Simmons financed his oil digging operations in Texas by selling land in east Oklahoma to African Americans in Texas looking to escape Jim Crow laws.

“Over 50% of the population in Kilgore, Texas, at the time was African American, and many, many, many African Americans owned land, had oil land, had oil leases,” said Gezdone.

There was a discovery of oil in the 1930s, north towards Longview and Kilgore.

The oilfield work was so dangerous and potentially harmful that employees often signed death warrants to protect the oil companies from blame.

“It’s extremely dangerous, that’s why I appreciate what these guys do. The well could blow up with a spark and all kinds of things,” said David Cantrell, an artist and designer who photographed roughnecks in the 1980s.

He helped created a bronze sculpture of roughnecks that runs for the price of $7,500.

The sculpture was created from a picture taken of roughnecks drilling for oil in Oklahoma in...
The sculpture was created from a picture taken of roughnecks drilling for oil in Oklahoma in the 1980s.(Sariah Bonds)

“Our oil carried World War 2,″ said Gezdone. He explained the oil reservoir in East Texas runs 45 miles long and 15 miles wide, depending on where you are located.

Hector Garza is the democratic chairman of Smith County and used to work as a driller in the oil business in 1991.

“I remember putting in the 12 to 15 hours a day, everyday. My respect — it’s very hard work, very tedious work: a job where you have to be alert the whole time you’re there,” said Garza.