- Tourism growth in Oklahoma's McCurtain County generates economic optimism
- Leaked recordings of racist remarks by county officials spark outrage and calls for resignations
- Residents hope the area's progress will outshine its history of racial strife and lawlessness
Deep in the southeast Oklahoma's Ouchita Mountains, McCurtain County is experiencing a tourism boom, earning it the nickname "Dallas-Fort Worth Hamptons." With luxury cabins and picturesque scenery, the area has diversified its economy beyond timber and chicken processing plants. However, recent leaked recordings of county officials discussing killing journalists and lynching Black people have dealt a major blow to the community's optimism.
Sheriff Kevin Clardy and a county commissioner, among others, have come under fire for their comments, prompting resignation calls from various elected officials. The sheriff's office has yet to address the remarks directly, claiming the recording was illegally obtained. Meanwhile, Governor Kevin Stitt requested the state Attorney General investigate the possibility of removing Clardy from office for willful misconduct.
Residents worry that these racist remarks will tarnish the county's reputation, which has been on an upward trajectory thanks to the growing tourism industry. McCurtain County is part of an area known as "Little Dixie," with a diverse population of white, Native American, Black, and Hispanic residents. The county has a history of racial violence and lawlessness, but recent developments, including the construction of Broken Bow Lake, have helped change its image.
The Choctaw Nation's historic reservation covers the county and a significant portion of southern Oklahoma. The tribe has started constructing a $165 million resort hotel and casino near the lake and Beavers Bend State Park, set to open later this year. As the tourism industry continues to expand, residents hope that the county's future will be defined by progress and inclusivity rather than its troubled past.
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