The federal Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had long served as the federal conduit for social welfare services and resource management assistance to Natives living on or near reservations. Despite the BIA’s enormous labors, however, as the 1960s arrived, hardly anyone felt satisfaction with the societal progress of Indians, individually or tribally (OKLAHOMANS 2, Chapter 8).
Meanwhile, far away from Washington, D.C. lanky young University of Oklahoma communications professor Bill Carmack trained educators how to adjust to the integrated schools now proliferating across the land. Possessing a heart as potent as his brain, Carmack recognized the need for further and broader such support amidst the dynamic social environment of the era. He thus helped birth OU’s new Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies, and served from late 1961 as its first director.
OU President George Lynn Cross described the center’s mission as to “study, ease, and circumvent human relations problems” in Oklahoma and the rest of the Southwest.
A few months later, Carmack braved a wintry night’s drive to his native Lawton. Not many folks rallied for that talk, but a young married couple among them would help him change his own destiny, as well as that of his state, its Indigenous people, and America itself. Carmack kindled the interest of that couple, State Senator Fred Harris, a Walters native, and his Comanche wife LaDonna, in the Southwest Center.
The Harrises and other Lawtonians, including banker and civic leader J. C. Kennedy, formed The Group. They hoped to desegregate housing in Lawton, which would allow blacks in particular to live outside racially confined neighborhoods. This brought the Harrises into Carmack’s integration-related community workshop orbit. They kept in touch, and Carmack assisted Harris in his unsuccessful 1962 gubernatorial bid.
Gradually, LaDonna concluded that many Indians were just as excluded from full constitutional rights as blacks. She and a group of fellow Comanches visited Carmack in Norman and asked him, “What are y’all doing for Indians?”
Like most Oklahomans, the professor thought Natives were already happily integrated into American society. “What’s the need?” he asked LaDonna. “Well, you need to see the need,” she replied.
Soon, Carmack met with LaDonna and a larger group of Comanches at the Fort Sill Indian School in Lawton. His consistent practice of the biblical admonition to “be quick to hear, slow to speak” would begin a process that would ultimately produce greater fruit than the most imaginative human mind could have conceived.
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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