Senator Lankford Celebrates Black History Month by Honoring Oklahomans
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today celebrated Black History Month by honoring several remarkable black Oklahomans who have significantly contributed to the state and nation. Lankford highlighted past and present Oklahomans who will be renowned going forward for their many contributions to areas of civil rights advocacy, faith-based mentorship, community organization, publishing and broadcasting, music and the arts, and many other areas important to our national identity.
Lankford highlighted the following Oklahomans:
- Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher – First black graduate from OU Law School
- Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange – First black woman elected to the Oklahoma State Senate, first black woman US Attorney for the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (OKWD), and later a judge on the OKWD
- Judge Bernard Jones – First black magistrate judge for the OKWD, now a Judge for the OKWD
- Clara Luper, Oklahoma civil rights activist
- Russell Perry, Oklahoma City media trailblazer, banker, former Oklahoma State Secretary of Commerce
- Kevin Perry – Oklahoma City publishing and media leader through Perry Publishing
- Dr. Kent Smith, Jr. – Current President of Langston University
- Hannibal Johnson – Author of Black Wall Street and a historian of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
- Lieutenant Wayland Cubit – Oklahoma City Police officer and at-risk youth community organizer
- Terry Monday – Perry Publishing executive in Oklahoma City
- Dr. Lester Shaw – Singer, songwriter, international recording artist, filmmaker, educator, and founder/Executive Director of A Pocket Full Of Hope in Tulsa
- Clarence Hill – Faith-based community organizer
- Stephan Moore – Executive Director of Shiloh Camp for inner-city youth, faith-based mentor, and volunteer
In 1924 when Oklahoma was a very young state, a young lady named Ada was born in Chickasha. Now you’d get that joke if you were from Oklahoma because we have a town in Oklahoma called Ada and a town in Oklahoma called Chickasha. This is a young lady named Ada, born in Chickasha. She thrived and she was an excellent student In fact she was the valedictorian of her high school, Lincoln High School. She left out and went to college, then transferred to another college, and graduated with honors in 1945. She dreamed of being a lawyer. She had graduated with honors. She had graduated valedictorian. She had all the credentials to be able to do it, but she had one big problem. She was black, and in Oklahoma, in the 1940s there were no law schools that would allow a black student to attend. So an Oklahoma policy was to help black students that wanted to be a lawyer to leave the state and to study somewhere else. She really didn’t want to do that.
She graduated from the great Langston University and had a great education there and had every ability to be able to do that. She interviewed with the University of Oklahoma and interviewed actually with the president of the school at that time to be able to go through the process to be able to get into the University of Oklahoma Law School. She was found to be fully qualified, but the problem was again, she was black. And it wasn’t just a problem at the University of Oklahoma. At that time there was a state law that did not allow black students and white students to be able to study together and certainly not to be able to study law together. So she did a radical thing.
On April 6, 1946, she filed a lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma saying that she wanted to be able to study law at the very good University of Oklahoma Law School. A young lawyer took up her case, a gentleman named Thurgood Marshall, who later became Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. A young Thurgood Marshall took up her case to be able to argue in front of Oklahoma District Court, where they lost, arguing it all the way to the State Supreme Court where they lost, lost, lost, and then they took it into federal court, saying that constitutionally the United States of America and no state of the United States could block a student from studying law simply because they were black. They won that case.
Promptly returning back to Oklahoma to study, the Oklahoma legislature hurriedly put together a new law school and called it Langston Law School and opened up a room in the state capitol and put in a few books there and said, ‘There’s your law school.’ Thurgood Marshall and Ada Fisher did not accept that, nor should they have, and started the process again of saying, ‘We can’t have a separate but [quote, unquote] equal law school in Oklahoma.’ They argued it in state courts, ending up again, heading all the way back to the Supreme Court. But before it got to the Supreme Court—and Oklahoma would lose again in front of the same nine Justices—they determined that they would break and they would give.
And on June 18, 1949, more than three years after she started the process of getting into law school, she was admitted into the University of Oklahoma Law School where she was given a seat in the back of the room with a sign directly in front much her that read ‘coloreds only.’ And she could sit in that row in the back of the room. By 1950, just the next year, those barriers had come down. And in August of 1952, Ada Fischer graduated from the University of Oklahoma Law School and became a lawyer.
She set the pace for what thousands and thousands of others that are lawyers behind her now get the chance of having that same joy. Interestingly enough, if you were to visit the courthouse in Oklahoma City, the federal district court there, if you were there a couple of years ago, you’d have bumped into Vicki Miles LaGrange, that African American judge. The pace was set for her by Ada Fisher. If you drop by and visit today, you would bump into Bernard Jones, that African American judge that serves there for the Western District of Oklahoma. The pace was set for him by Ada Fisher decades before.
Quite frankly, we can’t even fathom that in this current time period how different things really are. But it’s interesting to notice that time period, that generation and some ladies who made a difference in Oklahoma. Because at the same time Ada, she was at Langston University, another lady named Clara was at Langston University at the time. We know her affectionately in Oklahoma as Clara Luper. Now some folks may not know Clara Luper’s name, but they know what she did.
Clara Luper was at Langston University as well in the 1940s. She finished her studies, got her bachelor’s degree there, went and got a master’s degree and continued on through the process. She became the youth council leader for the NAACP in 1957, and in 1958, she helped her students, her youth that she worked with, to do a really, really radical thing to deal with segregation in Oklahoma. She talked about nonviolence, and she talked about how to be able to step out and take a stand. And she and a group of kids went to Katz’s drug store in Oklahoma City and sat down at the counter and ordered Cokes, and they sat there all day, never being served, all day. And it was the first nationwide, what we know of, as the ‘sit-in movement,’ where young men and women that were African American would go and sit down at a place and just wait to be served. And it started a movement that shook the nation into this issue of segregation.
Those two ladies made a remarkable change for the better in our history. Clara Luper and what she did, Ada Fischer and what she did, and as we look back on tomorrow—it’s Frederick Douglass’s birthday—and we celebrate February as Black History Month, we realize how much history has really happened around us, just in the past 100 years even. And we can go back as far as you want to and talk about the great Frederick Douglass and the influence he had on Abraham Lincoln and the influence he had on the nation, but quite frankly in Oklahoma, there are black leaders today that are making history, that 50 years from now and 100 years from now, we will be talking about them like we talk about Clara Luper and Ada Fischer.
We’ll be, 100 years from now, still talking about Russell Perry and the business work that he and his son Kevin have done: radio, what they have done in real estate, what they have done in leadership in our state. Russell Perry was a barrier breaker. He was a cabinet member for a governor and he been a great leader and is a great leader in our state. We’ll be talking about Dr. Kent Smith, the current President of Langston University and what he has done at Langston and the leadership model that he has in our state.
For years we’ll be talking about the members of the 1921 Race Massacre Commission and those individuals around Tulsa that have gathered around to say, ‘What are we doing to be able to help bring a community together and break down the barriers of segregation and of racism that still exists.’
We’ll be talking for years about Hannibal Johnson. He’s a lawyer and a brilliant man, a historian, and a leader in his community.
We’ll be talking for years about Wayland Cubit, an Oklahoma City police officer and a person who spends a tremendous amount of time helping those around him and helping youth, especially that are in trouble to be able to have radical turn-around.
We’ll talk for years about Terry Monday and what he’s done on the radio.
We’ll talk for years about pastors that are scattered all over our state that in the African American community they have made a very real difference in the lives of a lot of families.
We’ll talk for years, quite frankly, about Dr. Lester Shaw and what he has done at Pocket Full of Hope and how he has helped so many kids. He has for years mentored students and has had a 100-percent success rate year after year after year of just loving on kids and helping them in every way that he can. And for Dr. Shaw, he’s made a remarkable difference in our state.
We’ll talk for years about Clarence Hill and about what he’s done for race relations in our state and how he is quietly brought people together to be able to sit down around a dinner table and to be able to sit down and develop friendships that should have existed long ago.
We’ll talk for years about Stephon Moore and his family, what they have done in the inner city, what they have done to be able to pull kids out and to be able to look at them eyeball to eyeball and to be able to give them a sense of hope and a sense of joy.
You see, in our state and around my city, in Oklahoma City where Douglass High School is, February is not just another month. We understand what black history really means because we are living it with legacy-leaders Ada Fisher and Clara Luper and so many others that have left such a mark. And I’m proud to say I’ve got neighbors and friends all around me who continue to make history and what they continue to do in our state. And I’m grateful to call them friends, and I’m grateful we have the opportunity to be able to celebrate Frederick Douglass’ birthday together.