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Black Power was on full display at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday as the state’s Legislative Black Caucus held its inaugural Black History Day. The event, which featured speakers and performances, came as the White Republican-controlled state government continues to attack Black history and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in public schools.
“Black history is the story of American progress,” Black Caucus Vice Chair and state Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) told the hundreds of people who flocked to the 2nd floor of the Capitol building Monday morning.
Highlighting the rich history of Black trailblazers in Oklahoma who helped lead the national effort for civil rights, members of the Black Caucus sent a message to their ultra-conservative colleagues that Black history will not be erased.
In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times on Monday, Rep. Nichols said Black History Day has been over a year in the making.
“Oklahoma has a special connection to our history and our progress as a people. And it’s far past time that we did a day like this here at the Capitol,” Nichols said.
While many across the nation see Oklahoma as simply a flyover state, notable pioneers in the civil rights movement hail from the state.
Black Oklahomans led the charge for civil rights
The birth of Black Wall Street in Historic Greenwood District gave rise to the wealthiest Black community in U.S. history before a racist massacre and urban renewal overpowered its economic prowess, according to the Tulsa Historical Society.
Clara Luper, an Oklahoma City teacher and local NAACP Youth Council advisor, famously led a successful sit-in to integrate OKC’s Katz drugstore in 1958, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. She helped integrate restaurants and public accommodations in the state years before the sit-in movement gained steam in the Carolinas.
And Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, a brilliant law student who refused to accept separate and unequal education, challenged Oklahoma’s segregated university system with a U.S. Supreme Court win in 1948, six years before the famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
Over a century ago, Congress also considered the possibility of making Oklahoma, formerly known as Indian Territory, an all-Black state. Edward P. McCabe, known for nurturing the area’s many all-Black towns, once traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Harrison to get Oklahoma admitted as an all-Black state. It got as far as being introduced via a bill by New Hampshire Senator W. Blair, but the legislation went nowhere, a 1924 University of Oklahoma dissertation recounts.
Meanwhile, wielding a supermajority in the legislature and complete control of state offices, Republicans in Oklahoma have continued a years-long campaign of banning books, silencing critical discussions on race in the classroom, and waging war against DEI initiatives.
Rep. Goodwin urges teachers to “be courageous”
More than 50 years ago, civil rights organizer Kwame Ture, aka Stokely Carmichael, defined the term Black Power as having control of one’s self-determination and self-identity. In order for Black Americans to truly be free, they must access full participation in political decision-making and must see the beauty within themselves, Ture explained in 1967.
“I think there’s a lot of my colleagues who are here who think about Black history as a static kind of set of facts of the past,” Rep. Nichols said. “For me, it’s a statement to my colleagues here as we have conversations about contemporary things.”
Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa), who represents Historic Greenwood District, echoed those concerns as she urged teachers to “be courageous” in an interview with The Black Wall Street Times.
“First of all, House Bill 1775 is a trash bill,” Rep. Goodwin said, referring to a law passed in 2021 that seeks to limit how teachers discuss racism in the classroom. “We know that our history has to be taught. And we need our teachers to be courageous enough to continue to teach,” Rep. Goodwin said.
Governor Stitt attends Black History Day at the Capitol
Speakers, including former members of the Black Caucus and the state’s highest ranking Air Force officer, Lt. Gen. Stacey T. Hawkins, Commander of Tinker Air Force Base, encouraged the scores of high school students who came to witness history in the making.
Despite leading the anti-diversity rhetoric which has caused widespread fear and confusion among the state’s public school teachers, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt also spoke during Black History Day. While challenging the young Black faces to envision becoming governor one day, he didn’t miss an opportunity to campaign for sending taxpayer dollars toward private schools.
“You know, it doesn’t matter in Oklahoma where you come from. We want kids to have that best opportunity. And that’s why I’m all for more choice, more opportunities for kids,” Gov. Stitt said on Monday.
The Governor campaigns on school choice while denying the choice for administrators to create their own DEI programs.
“When we hear the governor saying that he’s not concerned about diversity, equity and inclusion, we are here to say that we do matter. Our history is important, and there would be no America had it not been for Black folks,” Rep. Goodwin told The Black Wall Street Times.
Meanwhile, Star Spencer High School students brought the base to the State Capitol as the school’s band performance echoed throughout the legislative halls like Sheryl Lee Ralph singing the Black National Anthem at the Super Bowl.
Ultimately, hundreds of Black adults, students and families came from across the state to support the Black Caucus’ first ever Black History Day, an achievement Black Caucus Chair and state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-OKC) didn’t take for granted.
“We need the support of the Black community. We need to make sure they get out there, as far as voting. Get out there and talk to their legislators and say this is unacceptable,” Rep. Lowe told The Black Wall Street Times. “The Capitol is our house as well, and we’re welcome.”
“Some of the giants of the movement are Oklahomans”-State Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa)
It’s doubtful Republicans in the state legislature will be swayed to cease their McCarythism-like attacks against educating students about the role systemic racism continues to play in the social, political and economic lives of Black Americans.
Yet organizers of the inaugural Black History Day believe shining the light of truth on cultural contributions and systemic racism is a story all Oklahomans should get behind.
“We are powerful people who have always progressed when we have fought for what was right. And what’s making right in today’s term is making sure we don’t erase that history and how we got here,” Rep. Nichols told The Black Wall Street Times.
“Some of the giants of the movement are Oklahomans. And if we hide that fact, we frankly hide who we are as Oklahomans, and that’s unfortunate.”