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This is a contributing entry for Ralph Ellison and African American History in Oklahoma City and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

The Meads were the next door neighbors of Ralph Ellison's family in the early 1920s. Frank Meade was a playmate of Ralph's and was talented in drawing and painting. It was his friendship with Frank that brought the first stirrings of a love of the arts, especially after Franks' father taught both boys to play the horn.

Detail Map of 820 NE 4, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma

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When the widowed Ida Ellison moved to 822 East Fourth Street in 1923, she landed her two boys, Ralph and Herbert, in the prosperous enclave of Black Oklahoma City. Lying along the ambitious streetcar line, East Fourth signified success, and even if Ida was defying all odds by occupying such a significant neighborhood, it offered Ralph an opportunity to enlarge his childhood imagination through an introduction to the arts through his new next door neighbor, eleven-year-old Frank Mead. The young Mead was an avid sketcher and chronicler of the east side of Oklahoma City, and he filled notebooks with cartoons and caricatures from their city blocks. His pantheon of characters included the stuff of boyhood fantasy--Black cowboys, local gangsters, outlaws, and detectives. Frank sparked Ellison's love of art. Years later, Ellison was to say of him, "Frank was simply the hero of my childhood." In addition to art, the Mead family also influenced Ralph's musical prowess. By 1924, Frank's father Joseph was giving both boys music lessons in the backyard; Frank on a trumpet and Ralph on the E-flat horn. It was only a few years later that Ralph himself would trade in for a trumpet. Thirty years later, the year after the publication of Invisible Man, Ellison returned to Oklahoma City, where he was surprised to meet the hero of his childhood on a city street. "...just as I stepped out of the car who should I see coming up the street smoking a cigar but Frank Mead, the boy who lived next door to the house where I spent some of the happiest days of my childhood. We must have talked an hour or longer before I realized that I was keeping my cousin waiting and grabbed a cab for her house."

Callahan, John F.. Conner, Marc C.. The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison. New York City, New York. Random House, 2019.

Jackson, Lawrence. Ralph Ellison: The Emergence of Genius. New York City, New York. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.

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