02.26.21

Lankford Honors Contributions of Black Oklahomans

Lankford: “Oklahoma is proud of these two ladies and what they've done.”

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) honored two outstanding Black Oklahomans in his annual floor speech in honor of Black History Month. Lankford shared the legacy and accomplishments of the late Oklahoma Senator Maxine Horner and the many contributions and tenacious public service of his friend, retired federal judge, Vicki Miles-LaGrange.

Transcript

In 1932, 11 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, Maxine Horner was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was Maxine Cissel at the time. She grew up in segregated Greenwood, a district recovering from the devastating effects of the massacre just a little over a decade before. Her parents were exceptionally protective and instructed Maxine and her siblings not to go into certain stores in downtown Tulsa knowing their children wouldn't be welcome. They didn't want their children to experience the pain and humiliation of being told to leave a store or to not sit at that end of the counter.

Her mother once told her, though, ‘Never let the color of your skin get in the way of achieving your goals. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything. You can be anyone.’ Maxine was part of the first class to graduate from Booker T. Washington High School, which at the time was an all-Black school. She was proud of the education she received at Booker T. Spent two years studying at Wiley College before returning back to Tulsa. She got a job working for Congressman James Jones, an opportunity that sparked some political ambitions in her.

In her 50s she returned back to school and received a Bachelor's Degree from Langston University in 1985. Despite being decades older than her fellow classmates and occasionally mistaken to be the professor in her class rather than one of the other students, she finished her education. And in 1986 she ran for the Oklahoma State Senate and became one of two women to be elected for the first time into the Oklahoma State Senate as an African American.

Maxine was a true trailblazer. She worked hard for her constituents, and she championed education and the arts. Her life was full of some poetic justice quite frankly. She grew up in the Greenwood district in the wake of the Tulsa Massacre, but in the late 1990s she sponsored the state legislation that created the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. She also cofounded the Greenwood Cultural Center. After she left office, she continued to fight for the victims of the Massacre and chaired the committee overseeing the search for the burial sites, work that's still going on today.

As a young teen she recalls going into the Tulsa Union Depot and seeing drinking fountains labeled colored and white. But as a state senator she sponsored the legislation that created the Jazz Hall of Fame, which now occupies the old Tulsa Union Depot building, where they don't have drinking fountains labeled black or colored and white. As a student she attended segregated schools. As a senator she championed the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access program or what we now call Oklahoma's Promise, a scholarship program for low- and middle-income students in Oklahoma. Oklahoma's Promise has helped over 75,000 young Oklahomans pursue higher education. She lived quite a legacy.

Two weeks ago on February 8, Oklahoma lost this transformational giant. Maxine Horner passed away at the age of 88, and she certainly will be missed by her family, and she’ll be missed by Oklahoma.

I did mention that in 1986 she was one of two ladies that were African American that were elected in the State Senate that year, the first ladies that were African American to be elected into our State Senate. The other lady was a dear friend, Vicki Miles LaGrange. She’s younger. She was born in 1953 in a segregated hospital in Oklahoma City. She grew up in a loving home with her parents and older sister. Her parents were well respected educators. Both got their Master's Degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1955, just seven years Ada Lois Sipuel won her case at the Supreme Court to allow Black Oklahomans to even attend at the University of Oklahoma.

As a young girl, she was interested in government and when her friend's mother, Hannah Atkins, decided to run for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Vicki helped out, even as a teenager. She became what they put together called Hannah’s Helpers, a group of young people who campaigned for Hanna Atkins. Hannah Atkins won her race and became the first Black female to serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Vicki attended McGuinnes High School. She stayed involved in a little bit of politics there, participating in Girls State. Asking a mutual friend Patrick McGuigan, who I am convinced had a crush on her when they were in high school—asking Patrick about that time, he recounts the stories and has written about it even in some of his writings about how Vicki went to Girls State and was elected governor of the Oklahoma Girls State program that year, but when the sponsoring organization decided who they were going to send to Girls Nation, they for the first time didn't send the governor. They chose to send the lieutenant governor. That's what Vicki faced as she grew up.

She attended Vassar College, and at 18 became a delegate at the Democratic Oklahoma State Convention. It was there that she met Carl Albert who told her that if she ever ended up in DC to look him up and to come work for him. Well, that's all you would have to tell Vicki. She attended Howard University Law School, walked right into the Speaker of the House's office one day here at the Capitol, and convinced Carl Albert that he should remember his offer and she became an intern in his office immediately while she pursued her law degree.

This was not an unusual thing for Vicki. After graduating law school, she clerked for a federal judge in Houston, joined the Criminal Division at Department of Justice where she helped prosecute Nazi war criminals. She decided she wanted to return to Oklahoma in 1983, so she returned, though she was rejected for an office in the US Attorney's office, ironic because later she became the US Attorney for the Western District. She walked right into the District Attorney's office, Bob Macy’s office, resume in hand, no appointment, and asked to be able to speak with him. And she waited outside of his office until he came out of his office. He came out for lunch and walked out with a job offer after that.

In 1986 she decided to run for State Senate. This was the same year Maxine ran as well. Her dad, a former industrial arts teacher, helped fix up her campaign headquarters. Her mother and her mother's best friend were campaign managers, and she won that race and unseated Senator Porter, a 22-year incumbent. When you look at Vicki’s life, there are a lot of firsts. Along with Maxine Horner, she was the first African American female to be elected to the Oklahoma State Senate. In 1993 when she became the first African American woman to become a United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. A year later in 1994 President Clinton appointed her to be the United States District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma. She was the first African American federal judge among the six states that make up the Tenth Circuit of that federal jurisdiction. She was appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist as a member of the International Judicial Relations Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Shortly after when she became a federal judge, the horrific genocide unfolded in Rwanda. Vicki advocated for an independent judiciary in Rwanda and was part of the group of international legal experts who were sent to Rwanda to help reform the system. She made eight trips to Rwanda at her own personal risk. She was awarded the Fern Holland Courageous Lawyer award from the Oklahoma Bar Association. In 2013 she was inducted into the Oklahoma hall of fame, the highest honor an Oklahoman can receive for contributions to the state. She received many other awards including the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Women's Trailblazer award. In the early 1960s, she was so inspired by President Kennedy’s inaugural address that she wrote to him to say how happy she was that he was president. One of his advisers actually wrote her a letter back. She kept that letter, and in fact she hung it in her office while she was a judge. She was quoted as saying above all else, she's a career public servant.

There's a newspaper article when she took her very last case in 2018 as a federal judge. And it quoted back to 1994 when she was in front of this Senate for confirmation hearings, being the first African American judge ever in the Tenth Circuit. And she said this. ‘My race will not determine my decisions.’ She said, ‘I don't want to be known as a good Black judge. I want to be a respected and good and fair judge.’ Vicki Miles LaGrange, that's exactly how we remember you.

Oklahoma is proud of these two ladies and what they've done. And we're proud to call them fellow Oklahomans and the trailblazing that they have done. Thanks for your leadership.

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