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Oklahoma Black History

Written by Dick Pryor on Wednesday February 29, 2012


The Sheet

February 26, 2012

Oklahoma has a rich, but complicated African-American history. History books tell of courageous black leaders such as Roscoe Dunjee, Edward R. McCabe, Ada Lois Sipuel-Fisher, and Clara Luper. Our history also includes other notables like Charlie Christian, Bill Pickett, Ralph Ellison, Charlie Rushing, and countless other contributors to our Oklahoma (and national) culture.

Yet, for all the contributions of Oklahoma's black community, there has always been a struggle. Tulsa is still the site of the deadliest race riot in American history. Jim Crow laws and municipal regulations limited the places were blacks could live, work and congregate. Many blacks lived in "black townships" and were not allowed to live, or purchase homes, in numerous other cities that had "Sundown" laws the prevented black citizens from being inside the city limits after sunset. The KKK was strong in early Oklahoma, and still has a presence here. Segregation required black students to suffer the indignity of sitting behind fences and in "separate, but equal" facilities. The sit-in movement of the late 1950's and early 1960's illustrated the overt discrimination that was common in education, public accommodations and the business community during that time.

This week on Oklahoma Forum we explore Oklahoma's black history and its effects on our culture with our guests: Bruce Fisher, Administrative Program Officer at the Oklahoma History Center and Curator of the African-American Exhibit; Risha Grant, CEO of X-Out Exclusion, Inc.; Rochelle Stephney-Roberson, author of the book, "Blacks in Oklahoma History"; and Julius Pegues, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, located in Tulsa.

Our discussion touched on some of the untold African-American history of Oklahoma and how the black community has influenced our state's policies and culture. And, we discussed how time is changing the role of black Oklahomans.

At the end of the program, a thought came to mind. Who are the black leaders of the last quarter-century that will be featured in the Oklahoma history books of tomorrow? Will black Oklahomans today be judged more for their accomplishments in their professions than for their contributions to the civil rights movement? If so, what does that tell us about the state of human relations, especially race relations, in Oklahoma?

We hope this program encourages further discussion of race relations in our state. While February is Black History Month, our commitment to exploring these important issues stretches beyond that one month on the calendar. So, we invite our viewers to learn more about black history and keep the dialogue going; share this program with your friends and your students; and use this show (and all Oklahoma Forum programs) to promote lifelong, anytime learning.

Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Risha Grant, Bruce Fisher, Rochelle Stephney-Roberson. Julius Pegues was in our Tulsa studio.)

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