Dean of Education: F. D. Moon (1896-1975)
Had not the grievous curtain of segregation finally been pulled back to reveal the life and works of Oklahoma’s African-American community to the full society, few outside the former would likely ever have heard of this valiant Fallis native. Instead, one of the nation’s most revered publications, the Saturday Evening Post, deemed him “the Dean of Negro Education.” A Gallup Poll declared him one of the 13 finest principals in America. He won the inaugural National Principal of the Year competition over every other peer in America, whatever their race.
Born in Oklahoma Territory 11 years before statehood, brilliant, trailblazing African American visionary F. D. Moon (1896-1975) served the young people of the Sooner State as an educator for more than half a century. He led rural black schools to accreditation in Jim Crow Oklahoma, piloted Oklahoma City Douglass High School to a historic role of community leadership, and led the OKC Board of Education as its first African American President. One of Moon’s enduring legacies was his ability to gain the trust and confidence of black and white citizens alike. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.
Moon excelled in the segregated schools for African Americans of the era. Those schools did not reach to the high school level in his rural area, so he simply advanced into the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University, now Langston University, as a ninth grader. He completed high school and two years of college there, before launching his teaching career at Crescent’s segregated black school.
Moon led that school to accreditation in 1921, as he did Wewoka Douglass as its principal in 1931. In between, he earned his bachelor of science degree and won election as president of the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers. After marrying Leoshia Harris of Oklahoma City and earning his master of arts at the University of Chicago, one of the nation’s most prestigious educational institutions, he accepted the principal’s position at Frederick Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. His tenure there from 1940-1961 gained him near legendary status for innovation and leadership during a still-largely segregated era.
As chronicled by historian Anita Arnold, a Douglass student during Moon’s tenure, his nimble mind minted a volley of effective educational systems and processes as part of his comprehensive, community-centered Moon Model of Education:
“It targeted and engaged everyone in the community with education—students, parents, community leaders, social organizations, civic and service organizations, and more. It encompassed educational opportunities for everyone through day school and night school, academically and vocationally, with the best and brightest teachers, who had to have a Masters Degree or be working on one. It was a complex educational system that exuded excellence!”
Coupling daring vision with maximum application of the talents of OKC’s African American community, the Moon Model catapulted many of its participants over the racially discriminatory societal constraints of the 1940s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, Arnold said:
“The system produced scholars, high achievers, master technicians in carpentry, cabinet making, electricity, plumbers, auto mechanics, tailors, brick masons, etc.”
Another of Moon’s Douglass students, Stanford White, later became a legendary high school football coach at the school (OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 11). He remembers Moon as “soft spoken, but stern and no nonsense,” whose impact reached far beyond Douglass:
“He was the ‘godfather’ of all black education in OKC. He was empowered by the school board to, in effect, be the supervisor of all the black schools. His power was statewide. If, during the pinnacle of his authority (1940s-early 1960s), a black with OKC connections applied for a teaching position anywhere in the state, a quick call to Moon was made to see whether this ‘gal’ or ‘boy’ was worth hiring.
Moon led Douglass until his 1961 retirement. He remained a powerful influence in the African American community in particular and the educational sphere generally. In 1972, he won election to the Oklahoma City Public School Board of Education. In 1974, he became its first black president.
White summarized Frederick Douglass Moon’s lasting impact on Oklahoma City:
“I think his greatest character quality was his ability to push for quality education for black children in a manner nonthreatening to the city's power structure. He had the ability to make them see that quality facilities and teachers for blacks was good for the entire city.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
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