Education

Racial Controversy at Historically Black High School

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What was once a beacon of black academic excellence has now become a front row seat in the witnessing to how internalized racism and white supremacy intricately operates in “urban” public schools.

OPINION | By Nehemiah Frank

Tulsa, Okla. — Booker T. Washington (BTW) high school was once the epicenter of negro pride during an era of Jim Crow in Tulsa, Okla. Today, the school seemingly continues to fracture itself by hiring soft leadership and punishes students for speaking out against white supremacy and racism.

The student-body of seniors were told “both sides were wrong,” by a school administrator in a pep rally a few weeks ago which echoes the same rhetoric President Trump argued at a press conference addressing what took place between peaceful protestors and white supremacist in Charlottesville, Va.

Students met their new principal, Dr. Melissa Woolridge, at the beginning of the school year. For once, north-siders thought their kids would have an ally in a position of leadership that would protect their constitutional rights and psyches from the encroachment of white supremacy taking place in their school and community. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Because when a student stepped out and into the fire of racial controversy, her principal did not come to her defense. Her principal chose not to explain why the young lady had worn the shirt to school that said: “White Hornets Respect Our Traditions.” Instead, Dr. Woolridge handed the keys to white media that demonized this black student who chose to use her first amendment right to protest white supremacy. Furthermore, the principal approved of the high schooler’s in-school suspension – for a week!

Where was the administration when white students provoked black student’s wearing shirts with the slogan “Make Booker T. Great Again?” Did those students receive an in-school suspension? I’m pretty sure they were not. The student missed all of her classes for an entire week known as T.R.A.C.E.

“The young lady should not have been suspended because she was exercising her first amendment right,” says Dr. Anthony Marshall Booker T. Alum and former Booker T. Teacher.

“Students are now less inclinded to speak up for fear of retaliation from the schools administration. They’re afraid they’ll be sent to T.R.A.C.E (in-school suspension) for speaking against racial issues. Normally, students who get T.R.A.CE. are only in it for a day or two. If you get five days it means you probably did something really bad. I don’t think wearing a shirt stating her views on an ongoing situation warrents five days in T.R.A.C.E.” a junior from the school reported.

How about the students wanting to have a “white-out event” for football games in opposition to the tradition “black-out” which doesn’t have anything to do with race but simple school colors: black and orange. And for the record, a “black-out” event for a football game sounds a lot more fierce than an “orange-out.”

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The young lady at Booker T. faced in-school suspension for voicing her opinion. She used her first amendment right that said if you’re going to attend a historically black high school, respect our traditions. Wistfully, her principal didn’t come to her defense nor did the principal try and help the young future leader. Parents didn’t receive notices that a pep rally that spoke about racial tension within the school would be taking place.

The principal could have chosen to contextualize the written message on the shirt. The notion that the text on the shirt stated “white hornets” in and of itself isn’t divisive but inclusive because it invites the students to accept and become apart of the Booker T. family and legacy. Furthermore, let us not forget that Booker T. Washington high school was founded and operated by blacks until Brown v. Board of Education. Whites were not allowed to attend Booker T. not because blacks didn’t want whites attending Booker T. but because white Oklahomans passed a law in 1907 establishing a separation between the races in Oklahoma. And today, we are witnessing the repercussions of those past racist actions in the form of an internalized racial suspension in teachers and principals who won’t speak to the nonsense when white students want to change traditions at historically black schools.

Now, in Dr. Woolridge’s defense, we know she had to operate within the boundaries of white supremacy because had she taken up for this young lady who wore the controversial shirt, Dr. Woolridge could very easily be out of a job. We have seen time and time again what happens to black people who choose to challenge the white supremacist system.

The suspended student’s shirt was truly an outcry from the north Tulsa community as a whole for the reason the majority of north Tulsans believe that both Booker T. and Carver Middle School are undergoing whitewashing by white teachers and white students. The situation is not to knock the caring white students, parents, and teachers who want to attend historically black schools because they want their kids to experience diverse learning spaces, we encourage that. However, for every white student that attends these historically black high-performing schools, one black student is denied the opportunity of attending; we can say the same about these schools’ ability to hire black teachers. For every white teacher employed, a black teacher is denied access to teach students in their own community which case studies have proven is detrimental to black students and their communities.

Lastly, the students worked things out before the suspension! Meaning, the suspension shouldn’t have taken place.

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Booker T. Washington High School has been a part of the Black Wall Street legacy since the establishment of the Greenwood community. The current racial tension in the school speaks to the need for a curriculum that reflects the community’s rich history of Black Wall Street and the unfortunate 1921 Tulsa Massacre in which Booker T. Washington High School was used as a hospital for black victims. The 1921 Tulsa “Massacre” Commission is currently working on implementing that curriculum. Members of the community hope to see a mandatory curriculum for all students in public schools. Currently, 1921 Massacre history is only taught in African-American history classes according to a student we spoke with.

2 replies »

  1. Mr. Frank, I am a “white” person so my comments may be unimportant to you. But, as the article that you recently wrote about Booker T. Washington High School pointed out, I’m just exercising my first amendment right so here goes nothing.

    My daughter graduated from BTW the year that Dr. Marshall retired. He is an amazing human being. I also read his response regarding the BTW student wearing the “White Hornets Respect Our Tradition” t-shirt to school. It was spot on. Your article, however, left me sick to my stomach. There are so many ways that you could have written that article without creating more divisiveness. You actually made the situation worse. Why are you making the white students and the families of these white students feel shame for going to BTW by stating that for each white student that attends, a place is taken away for a black student. Maybe, there are black students who have the opportunity to attend BTW and for whatever reason, choose to attend another high school..Aren’t white kids/families entitled to a good education? Just like the whole “Black Lives Matter” thing…….WHITE LIVES MATTER too! I never owned a slave, my parents never owned slaves, my grandparents didn’t own slaves. My great-grandparents didn’t own slaves. We were just poor Native Americans. We never did anything remotely negative to your race. Why must we FOREVER be raked over the coals for what despicable, evil white people did generations ago? We will never be able to unite as human beings if people like you are forever bringing up the past & creating room for hate to fester. Let’s move on. The majority of white people hated what happened to your people years ago but let’s love each other for who we are today and move forward.

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  2. As a multi racial POC military family that ended up in Tulsa after retirement, my parents had no idea of Booker T nor Carver’s history. They simply wanted their kids to attend high performing schools and not commute super far, nor pay for private tuition. Myself and 2 other siblings graduated from here. We believe in the freedom to protest peacefully. The situation should have been better handled diplomatically, and fairly by leadership – agreed. However, I would say linguistically and visually any sentence starting with “White Hornets respect (or any other verb)” divisively is selecting a specific group that the statement is targeted to. Same for “Asian Hornets” or “HIspanic Hornets” Just my opinion.You cannot infer or assume all will interpret the underlying meaning behind the statement (inferring historical context).

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