Sand Springs, Oklahoma is an industrial town located approximately two miles west of Tulsa off Highway 64. There are several factories in the town accounting for a significant wage-worker population which does not commute to Tulsa, therefore partially causing the town to progress in a typical small town pattern in certain areas relatively unaffected by its metropolis neighbor.
This has been especially evident in the area of race relations. The Negro population is enclosed in a nine square block ghetto with no room for expansion, entertainment facilities have been closed, the factories hire very few Negroes, and the object of this project, the school system, is totally segregated and grossly unequal.
Each school day Negro children ride to school past white schools and white children ride to school past the Negro school. This is because Sand Springs has the only Negro school to service a scattered populace who are ineligible to go to school in Tulsa and are not allowed to go to white schools nearer-by. For example, Buford Colony, a small Negro rural areas which was reportedly first settled by refugees from the 1921 Tulsa race riot, is located about 10 miles from Sand Springs. Between it and the town are located several white elementary schools which Negro children ride past on their way to Sand Springs Booker T. Washington. When the white children who inhabit these schools reach high school age they will ride past Booker T. Washington on their way to the white Charles Page High School. The concept of "bussing" in reverse has indeed been perfected over the years in Sand Springs.
At this point, the school that Negro children are "bussed" to should be revealed by examination. It should be remembered that all references to the Negro school system have been in the singular because that is what it isone school building for all 12 grades!
The psychological disadvantages of having students from 6 to 18 years old all housed under one roof are not the only inadequacies. The building was built in the early part of the century and easily shows it age. The school, which has almost 400 students, lacks the physical facilities to offer a physical education program to high school girls; the equipment allotted to the school is inadequate, e.g. one microscope for all science courses; and the curriculum is far below standard.
Across town, white high school students go to an ultramodern high school which has all of the latest facilities, e.g. an indoor swimming pool, modern stage craft system, gymnasium, and football stadium. Most important of all, the school offers a much superior curriculum.
Since the high schools were the most drastic in their inequality, they have been the focus of our efforts and studies. We have found that Booker T. Washington offers 35 and = credits while Charles Pages offers 84. Of course such a revelation would of necessity mean that many examples of courses offered only at the white school of about 900 could be found. Seemingly of most concern to the parents was the lack of an equal trades program at Booker T. Washington. While subjects liked printing, auto mechanics, drafting, and typing were offered at Charles Page, they were not at Washington. Such subjects as higher mathematics and Latin, among other, are unheard of in the high school grades of Washington, which hold 67 students.
It seems senseless at this point to continue with a description of the inequalities since they are so obvious and many that the documentation would entail more paper and time than is needed to prove an obvious case of discrimination. Suffice it to say that a high school division with 67 students, housed in a decrepit building, offering 35 and = credits, cannot provide the enrichment needed for the high school student than an ultra-modern school of 900 students with 84 credits can.
This situation was brought to the attention of Tulsa CORE in early July 1964 after I talked with several of the unluckily affected citizens in Sand Springs. A committee was formed with me at the head. We proceeded to gather the facts of the case with from local citizens and records. During the second meeting we outlined our position in the case and consulted with our lawyer, Herbert Wright.
We decided at this time that it would be unwise to just charge into the case and work on it without the consent or knowledge of the Negro community involved. Therefore, we felt that we could best serve by setting the process for change in motion to be negotiated by the parents involved. During this period we would work as an advisory group.
Our lawyer was informed of this and he, having personal connections, arranged an informal meeting with Clyde Boyd, the superintendent of schools, and Ed Dubie, the school board clerk. We informed them that it was time that they started thinking about this problem and they agreed--after giving up the argument that Washington was adequate and the citizens satisfied. They argued that the white school had already reached its enrollment limit. At this time we did not have any figures to refute this contention so we made the suggestion (this was not a demand since we were representing no one but ourselves and therefore, not negotiating) that they might work on the idea of consolidating the twelfth grade this year, the eleventh next year, and so forth. They thought this was feasible and agreed to discuss it at their next board meeting. As the meeting broke up, they asked that we not release publicity, which understanding to mean formal, we did not.
We informed the people who we had been working with in Sand Springs of this decision and advised them to attend the open board meeting since it did concern them. The meeting was held on August 3, 1964. However Mr. Dubie, seeing the Negroes present, refused to discuss the problem stating, "I will not be pressured by a sit-in or whatever this is." The board president, a Mr. Pafford, put off discussion of the issue for one week until they could have their lawyer present. Apparently they did not want the people concerned present when they made a decision.
It was decided at this time that a public meeting in the Negro community was needed to organize indigenous opposition to the status quo. That meeting was scheduled for August 8th in a local church. Prior to the meeting several CORE workers canvassed the community announcing the meeting and trying to gain more insight on the local situation.
As expected, there was widespread discontent with the status quo among the parents. However, at the same time, there was active opposition to any integration attempts from the teachers who were fearful for their jobs. In 1954, after the Supreme Court decision, these teachers had passed a petition requesting continuation of the segregated system (at this time the new white high school had not been constructed and the schools, at least physically, were more-or-less equal, probably accounting for the majority of the signatures on the petition).
A Mr. Tillman is the principal of Washington and is described by most Negroes in Sand Springs as an Uncle Tom. He apparently enjoys his position by virtue of the fact that he cooperates with the white power structure. He has little respect in the Negro community.
After gathering this information we asked Marques Haynes, the basketball star who lives near San Springs, to come to the meeting since he has widespread respect and would make an ideal indigenous leader since he would not be subject to economic reprisals.
The meeting was held with about forty adults, mostly parents and teachers, attending. The CORE position and suggestions were outlined and then the meeting was thrown open to a floor discussion. At the conclusion the body went on record as being for an immediate abolition of all forms of segregation practiced in the school system and unanimously elected Marques Haynes to be their spokesman to present this view at the next board meeting.
At the board meeting on August 10, Mr. Haynes read a statement expressing the discontent of the Negro citizens of Sand Springs and concluded with the following demands:
After much discussion, a compromise was agreed upon by the parents and the School Board whereas this year all seniors who desired such could transfer to Charles Page and at least five from each of the other two high school grades could transfer. The next year all juniors would be allowed to transfer, and so forth.
Although the CORE representatives there were not entirely satisfied with the compromise since we feel that Charles Page can absorb the 67 additional students and should take some teachers, it was the mood of those concerned to accept the compromise and since we were serving only on an advisory basis, we did not object.
Unfortunately though, the Board has reneged on this agreement inasmuch as they have refused to enroll any sophomores or juniors. Also, the obstinate nature of the processing of the transferees should be elaborated. Each student requesting a transfer is required to bring his parents to Boyds office. Boyd then proceeds to give them a one to two hour lecture on why they should not transfer. He threatens that there will be violence at the new school; he says that the students are not smart enough to "make it," and generally intimidates those desiring a transfer. Thus far he has discouraged at least two from transferring. He has handled all the parties this way and, for a while, refused to give transfer applications to sophomores and juniors. Recently he has given out the applications after a second trip but has said that they were futile since none would be accepted.
At this time, CORE obtained permission to directly represent the sophomore and junior students and we are still working on our strategy. It appears now that on August 21 we will take a group of students up to Charles Page and attempt to enroll them with full publicity and then work from there.
Copyright © James W. Russell, 1964.