As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important to remember all of the people from our past that played significant roles in bringing about the end of racial segregation and ensuring the rights of equality for Oklahomans.
Think about Clara Luper who brought her students to sit-ins at local lunch counters until finally the owners agreed to serve blacks right along side their white peers. Remember Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, the first African-American to break the color barrier at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law. There’s also Roscoe Dunjee, editor of The Black Dispatch newspaper, who used his ink and paper to help bludgeon away at injustice, and Dr. Donnie Nero, founder of the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame. The list of Civil Rights heroes in Oklahoma is long.
For now, I would like to focus on a few in our midst today who continue to fight for equality for all, and do so with integrity and grace.
Consider Federal Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, the first African-American woman elected to the Oklahoma Senate and the first African American United States Attorney in Oklahoma. Judge Miles-LaGrange is a fierce defender of Civil Rights, having experienced segregation first-hand in school.
According to the Federal Bar Association, Miles-LaGrange in 1970 was chosen as governor of Girls State only to be denied a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent the state because of her race. As a Senator, she fought not only for Civil Rights but also for women, families and children – championing maternal and infant care, and sponsoring legislation making stalking a crime. As U.S. Attorney for the Western District, she oversaw the prosecution of a public corruption case involving an alleged bribery and kickback scheme targeting more than one billion dollars in state investment funds. Judge Miles-LaGrange is an excellent example of courage under fire.
Another hero in our midst is Anita G. Arnold, Executive Director of the Black Liberated Arts Center (BLAC) Inc., a nonprofit that brings festivals, arts education programs, lectures, poetry readings, theater productions and more to Oklahoma City. Arnold has written a book on the history of music in Oklahoma City. Much of this information is little known by some in the state but it is a significant part of world history.
In the introduction of the book, Charles Burton writes that no one in Oklahoma City is as knowledgeable about the history of black entertainment and cultural issues as Anita Arnold. Ms. Arnold most recently used her talents to serve as a community advisor at Oklahoma City’s Douglass High School, where seniors are working hard to catch up on credits and end-of-instruction tests in time to graduate. I am so thankful for the work that Anita Arnold has done to enrich and serve our community.
I also want to take this opportunity to mention State Rep. Anastasia Pittman, who is working with the Oklahoma History Center, the State Department of Education and other partners to develop an African American History Coloring Book. Oklahoma African American artists created all the images in the book, and each image contains a short paragraph explaining the importance of the person portrayed. Parents or teachers can use this resource to teach black history to children. Rep. Pittman said she is now working on a similar interactive book that can be used by high school students.
You can download the coloring book here: http://www.okhistory.org/kids/printables/remember/full.pdf
Rep. Pittman points out that we are at a unique time in our state’s history. We have an African American Chief Federal Judge, Vicki Miles-LaGrange; an African American Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Tom Colbert; and we are blessed to have Rep. T.W. Shannon as the first African American to be the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
I can think of no better leaders such as these to serve as shining examples to all Oklahoma children that they can achieve anything they want to achieve.
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