It has come to my attention that Edmond Public Schools is searching for a name for the new school at 2300 N. Pennsylvania Avenue. The names we give to public schools both reflect and shape our values. A society that really wants to celebrate the life of an important figure – to keep his or her memory alive – does so publicly and permanently.
What's in a (School) Name? Honoring Oklahoma’s Progressive Roots
by Dr. Zakk Flash
Executive Director of Elementary Education
Edmond Public Schools
David Goin, Ed.D
President, Oklahoma Education Association
To Whom It May Concern:
It has come to my attention that Edmond Public Schools is searching for a name for the new school at 2300 N. Pennsylvania Avenue. The names we give to public schools both reflect and shape our values. A society that really wants to celebrate the life of an important figure – to keep his or her memory alive – does so publicly and permanently. Naming a scholarship, fellowship, street, or building forever honors an individual, group, or movement by associating their name with the institutions that compose a vital civic mission. The following are my recommendations for naming the new elementary school, based on historic events and progressive people in Oklahoma and Indian Territorial History.
Oscar Ameringer Elementary
Oscar Ameringer (1870-1943) was a staunch supporter of the rights of the disadvantaged. On his first speaking tour in Oklahoma, traveling by covered wagon and on horseback, Ameringer realized that Oklahoma's farmers, primarily impoverished tenants, constituted a major potential base of support for progressive causes. Ameringer stayed in dirt-floored tenant shacks and homes dug out of hillsides and saw human suffering at its most intense. He praised Oklahoma farmers’ determination by recalling that the man who presided at his first speech had arrived soaked to the skin, having swum across a river in his only suit because the bridge had been washed out. In 1909 he helped found the Oklahoma Renters Union to promote the rights of sharecroppers, and twenty-five years later his writings inspired the creation of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. In 1910 he led the fight against the “grandfather clause” that disenfranchised African American voters. He vocally opposed World War I, and in 1917 he and his wife, Freda, established theOklahoma Daily Leader, which promoted peaceful opposition to the war. Returning to Oklahoma City after the war, Ameringer published a radical newspaper, the Oklahoma Leader, which, as the American Guardian from 1931 to 1941, developed a national circulation. Ameringer waged a high-profile campaign in the Leader against the Ku Klux Klan, which was highly influential in Oklahoma during the early 1920s. He also edited the Illinois Miner and authored satire, including a column titled “Adam Coaldigger,” numerous poems, and a book titled The Life and Deeds of Uncle Sam, which sold more than half a million copies. In his preface to Ameringer's 1940 autobiography, If You Don't Weaken, Carl Sandburg, an old comrade and friend, compared him as a humorist to Mark Twain and Will Rogers. The national press lauded the book, comparing it to The Education of Henry Adams and The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. Despite his despair at the outbreak of World War II, Ameringer's humor triumphed. One day when his nemesis, Edward K. Gaylord, publisher of the Daily Oklahoman was out of the office, Ameringer visited the newspaper and regaled its staff with stories of humor and progress. Oscar Ameringer died November 5, 1943, in Oklahoma City. A conservative editor for the Oklahoman, a man whom Ameringer had comforted during a personal tragedy, titled his obituary “He Hated No Man.”
In the years leading to statehood, the Oklahoma and Indian territories hosted a particularly large and active branch of the Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union. Formed in Texas in 1902, that organization, popularly known as the Farmers' Union, was a conscious attempt to recreate the spirit and activism of the old Farmers' Alliance. In 1905, delegates from both the Oklahoma and Indian territories met in Shawnee to form a chapter, uniting members from both territories into one organization, called the Indiahoma Farmers' Union. Building on the cooperative ideal pioneered by the Alliance, Union leaders in the territories proposed two strategies for addressing those inequities. First, the Indiahoma Farmers' Union organized a crop withholding plan, whereby Union members pledged not to sell their crop below a prearranged price. The tactic worked best among cotton farmers; by holding their cotton until the harvest-time glut had passed, Union members hoped to see a significant increase in crop prices. Indeed, even though the withholding plan was purely voluntary, cotton prices in the territories increased from 6.7 cents per pound in 1902 to 9.5 cents in 1906. The second strategy, a network of Farmers' Union clearinghouses through which members would sell their crops, was even more ambitious. Members of Farmers' Union locals owned and operated the clearinghouses collectively, allowing them to control more closely the conditions under which they sold their products. These measures proved to be wildly popular among working farmers in the territories. By 1906, the Indiahoma Farmers' Union claimed more than seventy thousand members and a network of more than clearinghouses. The Farmers' Union and their allies fought hard and became a part of the progressive coalition responsible for Oklahoma's constitution.
Green Corn Elementary
Triggered by opposition to World War I and the draft, the Green Corn Rebellion was a tenant farmers' revolt that broke out in three counties along Oklahoma's South Canadian River in August 1917. While antiwar sentiments fueled the Green Corn Rebellion, it actually grew from long-standing grievances many tenants held against local landowners, businessmen, and state and local authorities. The farmers were particularly angered over the growing control of land by small numbers of wealthy landholders who resorted to rampant land speculation and outright fraud to obtain property. Speculation and falling crop prices had by 1917 forced over half of Oklahoma's farmers into tenancy. As a result, many tenants and small landowners joined organizations such as the Oklahoma Renters' Union and the Working Class Union (WCU). They proposed expanding the public domain, enacting a graduated land tax, and creating a cooperative marketing system. American entry into World War I revitalized the WCU. Farmers saw the conflict as “a rich man's war, poor man's fight,” and throughout the summer of 1917 the WCU planned its opposition to the new federal Conscription Act. In early August hundreds of men – white, African American and American Indian –gathered at the Sasakwa, Oklahoma, farm of John Spears, an aging Socialist. The men planned to march to Washington and end the war, surviving on the way by eating barbecued beef and roasted green corn, the latter giving the rebellion its name. However, the rebels never made it to Washington. After hearing about the insurgents’ activities, posses mobilized immediately and headed for their encampment. When the revolutionaries saw the armed men headed toward them, they dispersed. “The papers said we were cowards, but we weren’t,” one rebel explained. “Some of the men in the posse were neighbors of ours and we couldn’t shoot ’em down in cold blood. That’s the way we felt ’bout the Germans too. … We didn’t have no quarrel with them at all.”
Leopold Vincent Elementary
Editor, chair of the Populist Party, and the youngest of five sons of abolitionists James and Mary Sheldon Vincent, Leo Vincent was born in Tabor, Iowa, on December 20, 1863. Leo, his brother Henry, and their father founded the American Nonconformist newspaper in 1879. They termed it "a weekly antislavery journal devoted to the cause of emancipation from slavery to bondholders and railroad corporations." The paper successively supported the fortunes of the Greenback-Labor, Union Labor, and Populist parties. In 1894 Leo Vincent moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, to edit the Oklahoma Representative and to chair the People's Party in Oklahoma. Under his leadership the Populist Party became the major threat to Republican Party domination of territorial politics. Vincent played a major role in the territory-wide Democratic-Populist fusion victory of 1896, which elected thirty-six of the thirty-nine members of the 1897 territorial legislature. These members were responsible for progressive fundamentals in Oklahoma’s constitution, including direct democracy instruments like initiative and referendum measures that allow citizens to write or change laws without lawmakers. These progressives saw direct democracy as an obstacle against special-interest-group control of government.
Clara Luper Elementary
Educator and Civil Rights leader Clara Shepard Luper was born in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. In 1944 Luper received a bachelor's degree from Langston University. She later attained a master's degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1951 and was the first African American admitted to the graduate history program in the University of Oklahoma. Luper became the advisor for the Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council in 1957. The following year the Youth Council decided to stage a "sit-in" at Oklahoma City's Katz Drug Store. On August 20, 1958, walking into the store and ordering cokes, the youth, under Luper's guidance, demonstrated their discontent with segregation and launched the nation's sit-in movement. The sit-ins received local press coverage. Eventually the Katz chain agreed to integrate lunch counters at its 38 stores in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Over the next six years, the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter held sit-ins that led to the desegregation of almost every eating establishment in Oklahoma City.
Kate Bernard Elementary
One of Oklahoma's most outstanding woman politicians, Catherine "Kate" Barnard was born in Geneva, Nebraska, on May 23, 1875. In 1904 while serving as a hostess for the Oklahoma exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair, Barnard noticed urban poverty and listened to discussions by social science experts who suggested solutions. Returning to Oklahoma City, she discovered that her hometown also had developed an army of indigents. Believing that women had political potential, especially in the area of social justice reform, she entered politics in 1906 when Oklahoma statehood was imminent. During the Constitutional Convention she convinced delegates to adopt two reform measures: the prohibition of child labor, and the establishment of the office of commissioner of charities and corrections. After the convention the Democratic Party endorsed her candidacy for the position of commissioner, and she won the office by a greater plurality than any other candidate in Oklahoma's first general election, in which women could not vote. As commissioner, she persuaded the state legislature to adopt laws requiring compulsory education, regulating child labor, and launching a juvenile justice system. In 1910 she achieved reelection by a substantial margin, but her second term proved less successful. She embraced an unpopular cause, the protection of Indian orphans' property rights. Poor health and depression forced her into seclusion, and she died in Oklahoma City on February 23, 1930.
Dean Richardson Elementary
The federal government recognized that the Great Depression caused hardship and unemployment for white collar workers and artists as well as laborers. Of all of Roosevelt’s programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is the most famous effort to assist the unemployed during the New Deal's early years. Under the WPA’s work relief program, beginning in late 1935, artists received their greatest support. Collectively known as Federal One, projects were set up in most states for musicians, artists, writers, and actors. The projects, popular with the people, fulfilled the FMP mission, which was to provide work for deserving artists and enhance people's cultural lives. The WPA supported tens of thousands of artists, by funding creation of 2,566 murals and 17,744 pieces of sculpture that decorate public buildings nationwide. Dean Richardson served as Oklahoma director of the Federal Music Project (FMP). His job involved identifying Oklahoma's skilled musicians who were on relief, and thus eligible for assistance, and assigning them to various projects. These included a symphony in Tulsa, placing music teachers in ninety-two small schools, establishing an African American dance band and dance bands in Ardmore and Shawnee.
Ada Fisher Elementary
Ada Lois Sipuel was born February 8, 1924, in Chickasha, Oklahoma. At the urging of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), twenty-one-year-old Fisher agreed to seek admission to the University of Oklahoma's law school in order to challenge Oklahoma's segregation laws and achieve her lifelong ambition of becoming a lawyer. On January 14, 1946, she applied for admission to the University of Oklahoma College of Law. After reviewing Fisher's credentials, the university's president, Dr. George Lynn Cross, advised her that there was no academic reason to reject her application for admission, but that Oklahoma statutes prohibited whites and blacks from attending classes together. On April 6, 1946, with the support of civic leaders from across the state, Fisher filed a lawsuit in the Cleveland County District Court, prompting a three-year legal battle. A young attorney, Thurgood Marshall, later a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, represented Fisher. She lost her case and appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which sustained the ruling of the lower court, finding that the state's policy of segregating whites and blacks in education did not violate the federal constitution. After an unfavorable ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Fisher filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. On January 12, 1948, the nation's highest tribunal ruled in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahomathat Oklahoma must provide Fisher with the same opportunities for securing a legal education as it provided to other citizens of Oklahoma.
Roscoe Dunjee Elementary
Roscoe Dunjee, editor of Oklahoma City's only black newspaper, led the way in the struggle for civil rights in Oklahoma and in the Oklahoma City black community. From 1915 to 1954 Roscoe Dunjee published the Black Dispatch and endeavored "to interpret the mind, the aspiration, the object, and longing of his people" to the broader community. Roscoe Dunjee bought a small-job printing plant from Olivia J. Abby, a teacher in the Oklahoma City Public Schools, and printed the first issue of the Black Dispatch on November 5, 1914. Dunjee's education does not indicate any preparation for newspaper editing. He had attended a one-room school on the Anderson farm and had finished one year in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) elementary department. Otherwise, he was self-taught and read extensively in a fifteen-hundred-volume library inherited from his father. A member of the NAACP's national board of directors, he served for sixteen years as president of the Oklahoma State Conference of Branches of the NAACP. Dunjee tirelessly worked for the civil rights of black Americans. Whether in a scathing editorial denouncing injustice or in a speech before an organization, he was uncompromising in his stand for equality and justice.
George W. McLaurin Elementary
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, an important case leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, struck down the Oklahoma statute that mandated segregation in education. The case began when the University of Oklahoma denied George W. McLaurin admission to its graduate program in education, citing the segregation statute, which made it a misdemeanor to operate a school where both blacks and whites were taught. McLaurin filed suit in federal court in Oklahoma City. A three-judge panel struck down the law, to the extent that it prohibited McLaurin from attending the University of Oklahoma. Even though the university could no longer deny McLaurin a place in school, it tried to segregate him on campus. He had to sit by himself in a separate section of the classroom, sit at a separate desk in the library, and sit at a different table (and sometimes eat at different times) from the rest of the students in the cafeteria. The federal court in Oklahoma City upheld the discrimination, observing that the Constitution "does not abolish distinctions based upon race..., nor was it intended to enforce social equality between classes and races." The U.S. Supreme Court heard McLaurin's appeal in April 1950 and in June unanimously reversed the lower court. Chief Justice Fred Vinson, writing for the court, held that the differential treatment given to McLaurin was itself a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause: "Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession." McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950) signaled that the Supreme Court would no longer tolerate any separate treatment of students based on their race.
I urge the Board of Education to consider my selections for naming the new Edmond elementary school. Oklahoma's progressive, populist roots would be well represented with any of these choices, supporting Edmond Public School's mission of empowering students to succeed in a changing society. Public education is the cornerstone of a democratic society. If we truly care about empowering future generations in a diverse and interdependent world, we should celebrate Oklahoma people and movements that built solidarity against racism, sexism, class oppression, and exploitation. What better model do we have for our children?
Bread and roses,
Dr. Zakk Flash
Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.
Find more about the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA) at www.facebook.com/COBRACollective