When election day arrived, the labors and prayers of Governor Raymond Gary and many others bore fruit. Oklahoma voted in the Better Schools Amendment by a resounding 3-1 margin. The law included, in principle at least, equal educational opportunities for African American children to all the state’s public schools, and the enormous learning and social benefits that provided. Though full access would necessitate several more years and some controversial judicial rulings, the greatest two hurdles were cleared—the law and the hearts of most Oklahomans.
The Poteau school district led the way in integrating its schools. Superintendent Elbert L. Costner declared the foolishness of transporting a handful of African Americans 15 miles away when they could attend local schools. Gary’s home district of Madill, where he had once served as superintendent, followed suit, as did nearly 250 other school districts in the 1955-56 school year. Hundreds more would do so by the end of the decade. Many had no black children in the area to integrate.
African American historian Jimmie Franklin placed the arduous process in context:
“Both blacks and whites found themselves involved in a process which was totally new and which had been illegal for a half a century! If some discomfort and suspicion characterized the behavior of both groups, history could serve as a good explanation. Fundamental problems plagued blacks, such as the dismissal of teachers and the development of a spirit of cooperation among those with whom they did work. Some blacks also found that formerly all-black schools had been important cultural centers for them, but were now less so under integration. And that disturbed many of them. Nevertheless, Oklahoma had made a good start. Integration was indeed established.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book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.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.