September 19, 2023

Threatt Filling Station: “Grandpa Would Be Proud … Because We Didn’t Give Up”

David and Edward Threatt share the history and legacy of this historic site on Route 66.

One word describes the drive behind preserving the Threatt Filling Station, in Luther, Oklahoma— legacy. Today, the family, led by co-founders of Threatt Filling Legacy, LLC and the Threatt Filling Station Foundation Charles David Threatt (David), Edward Threatt, and Linda Fisher, is dedicated to seeing that the historic service station founded in 1915 by their grandfather, Allen Threatt, Sr., stands for generations to come.

A postcard of the front of the Threatt Filling Station in the 1980s.

photo by: Charles David Threatt, Threatt Filling Station Foundation

Threatt Filling Station in the 1980's.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1995, the service station has been in the family for over 90 years. Over those years, the Threatt family has made history through the filling station and in their personal lives. This includes Elizabeth Hilton Threatt, the aunt of David and Edward, and Linda integrating and graduating from a university in Oklahoma, and the family stories that described the Threatt Filling Station’s involvement in helping survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921.

Today, the Threatt Filling Station Foundation partners with local and national organizations supporting their mission, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation. However, preserving the building hasn’t come without its challenges, and in 2021 the National Trust included the site on its America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. But help wasn’t far behind, and that same year the Threatt Filling Station received a significant grant from the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

History of the Threatt Filling Station

Located on U.S. Route 66, the road’s only known Black American-owned and operated gas station and cafe served as a safe haven for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era from threats of violence, including racism and lynchings in sundown towns at night.

A man kneeling next to the front tire of a car at the Threatt Filling Station.

photo by: Charles David Threatt, Threatt Filling Station Foundation

Ulysses Grant Threatt, Allen Threatt's son, took over the filling station until 1956.

Focused on ensuring their safety, African Americans used The Negro Motorist Green Book to find businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and gas stations, that they could patronize during road trips. While the Threatt Filling Station was not listed in the guidebook, the site still served as a place of refuge.

“The station is physically located between two sundown towns, what were sundown towns at the time,” said David. “So people of color traveling Route 66 couldn't stay in the hotels in those cities. They couldn't go into the restaurants and so forth. People would come to the station, they'd pull around behind the station because they knew they could be safe there and actually spend the night in their vehicle and then be able to get up the next morning, use the facilities, [and] get some gas.”

After Allen Threatt, Sr. passed in 1950, his son Ulysses Grant Threatt took over the filling station until his passing in 1956. His wife, Elizabeth, spearheaded the business until 1974. The back of the building served as a residence from 1958 until 2009, when she died.

View of a man in a brown suit and tie facing forward.

photo by: Charles David Threatt, Threatt Filling Station Foundation

Portrait of Allen Threatt, Sr., who founded the Threatt Filling Station in 1915.

Photo of a woman with glasses in a gray suit jacket looking at the camera.

photo by: Charles David Threatt, Threatt Filling Station Foundation

Portrait of Elizabeth Hilton Threatt, the aunt of David Threatt, Edward Threatt, and Linda Fisher.

Elizabeth, an ambitious woman and pillar in her local community, went to Langston University, a Historically Black University in Langston, Oklahoma, and would later receive a graduate degree from Central State College in Edmond, Oklahoma (now the University of Central Oklahoma), where she was one of only five Black students to integrate the institution. The Elizabeth Threatt Luther Library in Luther is also named in her honor.

Elizabeth, who Edward refers to as Ms. Threatt, was more than just his aunt, she was also his teacher.

“She carried herself in such a way that you couldn’t help but respect her,” said Edward. “And when we started school, at least I did, in a segregated school. Ms. Threatt taught so many Black students. But then, when segregation ended, and we went to the white school, she was one of the few teachers that was able to transition from a segregated school into the white school. And that degree of respect that she received there, it just kept right on going. And she taught everybody the same way [and] treated everyone the same. It was just a degree of respect that people today that she taught still speak of her with a great deal of respect.”

Serving as a place for the Black community to gather for holidays, there were Easter egg hunts, celebrations on the 4th of July, and weekend dances held on the 150 acres of land around the Threatt Filling Station. Reflecting on the time spent on the property as a child, Edward shares how it was also a safe space for the Threatt family.

“Because of where the station was located on [Route 66], we owned a building right next door to it, which at the time it was a bar my dad [Edmond Threatt] had [and] it was [called] the Brown Bomber in recognition of the boxer, Joe Louis,” said Edward. “We also had a full-size baseball diamond [where they had the Negro League baseball games]. We had a Black baseball team.

And the only time that you ever heard that N-Word was when you left home. There was such a comfort in being surrounded by Black people as a kid. Growing up in the country and being surrounded on the weekends by Black people coming home from school, being surrounded by Black people, there’s a certain degree of comfort in that that you don't necessarily get outside of the community.”

Ensuring the Legacy of the Threatt Filling Station

Hopeful about the Threatt Filling Station’s future, David, Edward, and Linda have grand plans to further the story of the service station while continuing to cement their family’s name and history.

In July 2023, The National Trust’s HOPE (Hands-On Preservation Experience) Crew, in conjunction with students from Guthrie Job Corps, spent time at the site this year helping fix various issues, including restoring the “giraffe stone” masonry and using donated paint from Benjamin Moore to complete exterior painting at the building.

David Gibney was the trades expert on the preservation project at the Threatt Filling Station. He is a restoration artisan craftsman in the world of preservation for historic structures.

“It’s really cool to [have] been involved with it,” said Gibney. “For African Americans, it was a safe haven for people to travel. They knew they could get gas there, and I think the family even itself took in people. They own like 150 acres. So because of that, it just always sort of warms my heart to be in projects like that. And it was my first time ever being on Historic Route 66. So it just had a lot of personal vibes for me.”

While the original plan called for restoring one side of the filling station, the team spent two weeks in Luther to give space to preserve the entire site. One surprise discovery? A cornerstone with the date March 22, 1933 indicated that this wasn’t the original station built in 1915, something the Threatts could confirm through family conversations. The first structure on this site burned in a fire and was rebuilt in the 1930s.

“What we want to do is be able to share some of the things that we learned when we set out on this journey a few years ago, just wanting to preserve the station,” said David.

“We have aspirations of [an] interpretive center that we want to open up to explain what it was actually [like] being on the station, living out at the station, and what it was like being a person of color on Route 66 back during the Jim Crow era. The biggest thing in the future is us being open in time for the Route 66 Centennial coming up in 2026. We’re really pushing hard to do that.”

Edward shared what the preservation of the Threatt Filling Station means to his family.

Two men sitting at a table with a lap top in front of them. They are wearing matching shirts.

David (sitting) and Edward Threatt (standing), along with Linda Fisher (not pictured) are dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Threatt Filling Station.

“Grandpa would be proud of where we’re at and the things we’ve accomplished because we didn’t give up. We had that ‘Threatt stubbornness,’ so to speak to it, and not give up, we were just stubborn that way. But we came by that honest; that came from Grandpa. And I guess I shouldn’t use stubborn, but we were strong. Because Grandpa was a strong man, and he passed that down to us because it came from Grandpa to his sons [and] to his grandsons.”

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Jasmine M. Ellis was the audio storytelling intern for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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