If you have an ear for the blues and a taste for barbecue, Lawton, OK, might just be the place for you. Drive the streets of Lawton, and you're sure to come across more than a dozen soul food and barbecue restaurants, many owned by African Americans – a testament to the city's growing black economic power and economic vitality. Many of Lawton's black business owners join the neighboring Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce for networking and support, making it one of the Best Cities in the U.S. for African Americans.
The city's proximity to Fort Sill army base also adds to economic stability. Fort Sill, which in the mid-1800s was home to the famed Buffalo Soldiers all-black cavalry unit, is the largest employer in the area, with 9,000 soldiers stationed at the base and some 7,300 civilian employees. The base is also a training site for field artillery and air defense artillery, and hosts an additional 5,000 soldiers each year for training. Fort Sill contributes more than $1 billion to the local and state economies.
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Like most military installations across the country, Fort Sill has also helped to diversify the population. African Americans make up 20 percent of the population, an increase of 16 percent over the last decade. One of the reasons for Lawton's population growth is the BRAC, the military's base realignment and closure program which spurred an influx of additional military families and personnel to Fort Sill. Another reason is Lawton's low cost of living compared to its enviable quality of life. According to the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index, Lawton's cost of living continues to be below the national average. Most notably, housing costs in Lawton are 10 percent below the national average. Thirty-nine percent of African-Americans own their homes in Lawton.
The Lawton Public Schools offers a diverse administration that mirrors the student population, and Cameron University – the largest four-year college in the region – offers associate, bachelor's and master's degrees in more than 50 academic programs. Cameron is consistently ranked in the Least Debt category by U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges, and has been named one of the top universities for students graduating with the least amount of college debt. Cameron also has an active Black Student Union that hosts several annual events for the community, including workshops, speaker panels and the annual Soul Food Festival, held each February in honor of Black History Month.
Outdoorsy types will appreciate the fact that Lawton is located near three lakes for fishing, swimming and boating and that the city's parks and recreation department operates some 80 parks and recreation areas, including Elmer Thomas Park, which hosts the annual Charlie Christian International Music Festival. The event celebrates the legacy of the Oklahoma native and features a weekend of live music, food and vendors.