Sand Spring, Oklahoma School Integration

In August 1964, member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, initiated a drive to integrate the Sand Springs, Oklahoma school system.

A group of students from the segregated Booker T. Washington School, which housed all grades from kindergarten to 12th, sought admission to Charles Page High School. The Sand Springs School Board refused admission. The students then filed a complaint under the Civil Rights Act with the United States District Attorney. The school board relented after the filing of the complaint. The students were then admitted to Charles Page High School. Subsequently the rest of the Sand Springs public schools were integrated as well and Booker T. Washington School closed.

The following are newspaper accounts of the integration campaign and a CORE report.

E.L. Goodwin Jr., “Sand Springs School Board Biased: Haynes, Ray, Russell Lead integration Fight; Students to Attempt Enrolling Friday,” Oklahoma Eagle (Tulsa), August 20, 1964.

E.L. Goodwin Jr., “Sand Springs School Board Rejects Then Accepts High School Students: Decision Follows Protest Filed with U.S. Dist. Atty.,” Oklahoma Eagle (Tulsa), August 27, 1964.

Negro Pupils Plan Rights Law Action,New York Times, August 22, 1964

James W. Russell, Report on Project to Desegregate The Sand Springs, Oklahoma Public Schools, Tulsa Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), August 18, 1964

James W. Russell, “Marques Haynes Gave Civil Rights Movement a Dunk Shot,” The Chronicle (Willimantic, CT), December 7, 1992

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E.L. Goodwin Jr., “Sand Springs School Board Biased: Haynes, Ray, Russell Lead integration Fight; Students to Attempt Enrolling Friday,” Oklahoma Eagle (Tulsa), August 20, 1964.

As organizations throughout the Nation celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, dispute has risen in our neighboring community of Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

Since the passage of the law, the District has continued to maintain separate schools in the industrial community with the cooperation the Negro school principal, Mr. George Tillmon, and Negro residents.

A Caucasian member of the Congress of Racial Equality, James W. Russell, Sand Springs

resident, became interested in the situation in early July and a committee from CORE was formed to investigate the school differences.

Inadequacies Explored

The committee found that the Negro Booker T. Washington High offers 35.5 credits, while Charles Page High offers 84. That the Negro school is housed in one building of grades 1 through 12, with only 67 students in the high school as compared to 900 in Charles Page.

That Page offers courses in printing, auto mechanics, drafting, typing, etc. while Washington has no physical education, one microscope, no vocational training courses, personal hygiene, and subjects in higher mathematics. Latin etc. are unheard of. Not to mention the psychological disadvantages of having students from 6 to 18 years old all housed under one roof.

Positive Discrimination

An obvious case of discrimination is clearly illustrated from the facts indicated. In ten years the

San Springs School Board has not seen the disadvantages of maintaining a separate inadequate high school for 67 students in a dilapidated building, offering 35.5 credits as compared to the ultra-modern school for whites which provides the well-rounded education desired.

The Washington school houses approximately 500 students in a building which was built in the early part of the century that features an outdoor swimming pool for the Negro population.

Superior Curriculum

Across town the white students enjoy an indoor swimming pool, modern stage craft system, gymnasium, football stadium and a far superior curriculum.

Seeing the disadvantages, Russell through CORE Attorney Herb Wright and the committee agreed with the Negro citizens of the community to work in an advisory capacity.

A meeting with the citizens and two members of the board—Clyde Boyd, Superintendent of Schools and Ed Dubie, school board clerk–was arranged. The duo agreed that something should be done to correct the situation after giving up the argument that the Negro school was adequate and the Negro citizens were satisfied.

Marques Haynes, well-known Negro cage great of Harlem Globetrotters and Magicians fame, presented a proposal to the seven member school board on August 10. Hynes, a native of Sand Springs, read a proposal to five members present before the interested Negro citizenry.

Expressing their discontent, he proposed: 1. Rezoning of schools. 2. Integrating 10th, 11th and 12th grade students into Charles Page High School. 3. Maintain and integrate Booker T. Washington High School teachers into the Sand Springs School System.

Reject Proposal

The Board consisting of Mr. Ben Cole, Mr. Doyle Cannon, Mr. Tom Pafford, Boyd and Dubie rejected the proposal and sought to effect a compromise. Absent were a Mr. Randall and Debolt.

After much discussion, the board insisted that the dispute was brought about by “outsiders” but were reassured that CORE only acted as advisors.

The Board consented to integrating the senior class at Washington consisting of eighteen students and at least 5 in the 10th and 11th grades. Although the Page High School was built to facilitate 1000 students they board said that it was physically and financially impossible to absorb all 67 Washington High School students.

The Citizenry agreed to accept the compromise and were assured the procedure would be carried out. However, when several of the Negroes attempted to obtain transfers from Superintendent Boyd, they were taken into his office and talked to about whether it was best as Principal Tillmon sat in the outer offices. Boyd told the Negro students there will be violence and that the students are not smart enough to “make it,” and generally intimidated those desiring a transfer.

Sly Tactics

He has reportedly refused to give transfer applications to sophomores and juniors.

Recently he has given out the applications to sophomores and juniors after a second trip but has said that (applications) were void since none would be accepted.

Friday morning a number of students will make attempts to enroll in the Page High School. Meanwhile the Negro Civic Community Club has agreed to support any child financially with books, lab fees, etc. that cannot afford to attend the high school.

A stalwart in the school integration movement has been Rev. K.E. Ray, pastor of First Baptist Church there. Efforts have been reportedly made by several members of his congregation to oust him as pastor for the forthright stand he has taken. Ray is an asset to the community and is the first Negro member of the Kansas City, Mo. Parole Board.

Negro Wants Job

Meanwhile, I have not talked with Principal Tillmon, but his wife averred that, “I would like to keep my job, and I hope the Washington students don’t transfer.”

The situation is unique in that following the 1954 school decision, the Charles Page school had not been constructed and the two high schools were at least physically the same. Washington High School teachers were instructed to pass out petitions requesting continuation of the segregated system and were successful.

The School Board said that they felt the citizens of Sand Springs were satisfied up until a month ago. They let it be known that they run the school board and will not be pressurized by “outside” forces into school integration.

Legal Fight Brews

Sand Springs Negro leaders say they will exhaust all legal means to see that schools in all grade levels will be integrated.

In the past, white children have been “bussed” right past Washington High School to Charles Page. What about the Negro children who are in walking distance? We know about the School Integration Decision of 1954! Shouldn’t they?

Members of the Civic Community Club are Mr. and Mrs. Edward Westbrooks, Marques Haynes, Mrs. Hazel Crawford, Mr. Oscal Malone, Deacon Knight, Rev. E. Jones, Mr. E. Towns, Mrs. Farmer, Gene Solomon, Rev. K.E. Ray, Mss Vernell Gant, Mrs. Besale May Zachary, and Mrs. Corella Long.

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E.L. Goodwin Jr., “Sand Springs School Board Rejects Then Accepts High School Students: Decision Follows Protest Filed with U.S. Dist. Atty.,” Oklahoma Eagle (Tulsa), August 27, 1964.

Another segregation barrier in school integration was removed Monday by the Sand Springs School Board with the announcement that at least ten Negroes will be admitted to the Charles Page High School on opening date, Aug. 31.

The announcement came upon threats of civil rights protests to U.S. District Attorney John Imel, Friday of last week by parents of the students, who were denied enrollment privileges in the sophomore and junior classes.

Led by Rev. K.E. Ray, pastor of First Baptist Church, Sand Springs and CORE members James Russell and Eugene Freeman the group sought legal recourse following their rebuttal by San Springs High School officials.

May End Legal Move

Wednesday, Imel said the move by the school board to accept the Negroes in all high school grade levels appears to have ended action on the Federal Civil Rights Complaint. If sanctioned as legitimate by U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the protest could lead to a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of the Sand Springs School System and segregation.

Previously, following several meetings with Negro Citizens of the community, with Marques Haynes of Harlem Magician fame serving as spokesman, rejected a proposal of redistricting and desegregating all schools, but agreed to accepting all seniors from Booker T. Washington automatically this year, juniors next year, and sophomores in 1966.

10 to Enroll

There were approximately 18 seniors at Washington but only four sought transfers to Page. Six undergraduates were accepted Monday under a policy of permitting such transfers if space permitted.

Ed Dubie, spokesman for the School Board said there is a space problem at Page High School which he believes will be alleviated in three years.

Dubie said, “Three years from now the board will automatically accept all senior high students desiring to transfer from Washington.”

Inadequate Space

He added, “Although we have a one million dollar facility at Charles Page, it took three bond issues to do that and we are still building. We will have to take our shop students to the junior high this year. We don’t have all the space we would like to have.”

To avoid misunderstanding Dubie said certified letters will be mailed to parents of Negro students notifying them of transfer acceptance and date and time to enroll.

The protest here was believed to be the first lodge in Oklahoma under the recently passed new civil rights law.

To Test Junior High

Rev. Ray told the Eagle that at least two young Negroes will seek admittance to the Sand Springs junior high school this year.

Among the senior seeking admission to Page High are: Vicki Westbrook, Dolly Chambers, and Cortez Johnson. Sophomores are Douglas Westbrook, Marcia Carroll, Lecoy Steward, Keith Robinson, and Betty Towns. The lone junior is Calvin Long.

Parents of the sophomores and juniors to be extended congratulations are Mr. and Mrs. .J.D. Westbrook, Mrs. Alma Carroll, Mrs. Ray Jean Smith, Mrs. Vernell Grant, Mrs. Corella Long and Mr. And Mrs. C.P. Towns.

Congratulations Extended

Inadvertently we stated Mrs. Bessie May Zachary is a member of the Civic Community Club. We later learned she is an interested teacher at Booker T. Washington.

The leaders of the desegregation movement, Rev. Ray, Mr. Russell and Mr. Haynes are to be congratulated for their forthright stand, along with the members of the Sand Springs School Board who recognized the evil of segregation and sought to change the system through negotiation.

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“Negro Pupils Plan Rights Law Action,” New York Times, August 22, 1964

SAND SPRINGS, Okla., Aug. 21 (UPI)—Five Negro students were refused enrollment today in the 10th and 11th grades of Charles Page High School and met with the United States Attorney John Imel to discuss filing of a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mr. Imel said he had advised the students and members of the Congress of Racial Equality on the proper method of filing the complaint. He said they indicated they would take the necessary steps.

He said the complaint must be filed in writing by an individual student or the parents of a student, and could not be filed by an organization or group. He said the complaint would be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and if a violation of the Civil Rights Act was found a report would be sent to the Attorney General in Washington.

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James W. Russell, Report on Project to Desegregate The Sand Springs, Oklahoma Public Schools, Tulsa Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), August 18, 1964

I

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.

II

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 is—one 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 ½ 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 ½ credits, cannot provide the enrichment needed for the high school student than an ultra-modern school of 900 students with 84 credits can.  We later found out that the school was built to hold 1000 students.

III

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. The other two members were Eugene Freeman and Bobby Brown. 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:

1. Re-zoning of schools.

2. Integrating all 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students into the Charles Page High School.

3. Maintain and integrate Booker T. Washington High School teachers into the Sand Springs School System.

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 Boyd’s 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.

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James W. Russell, “Marques Haynes Gave Civil Rights Movement a Dunk Shot,” The Chronicle (Willimantic, CT), December 7, 1992

Marques Haynes and the Harlem Magicians are coming to town. I’ve already bought my ticket.

I last saw Marques Haynes, “the world’s greatest dribbler,” 28 years ago in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. I had first known who he was when, as a 9-year-old, I had watched the movie Go Man Go about the Harlem Globetrotters. What I remember from the movie is that watching him move the ball was more interesting than the actual scoring.

He sort of break-danced and dribbled at the same time. In a game where height usually counts the most, he was a skilled dancer and juggler, bouncing the ball behind his back and through opponents’ legs, always causing consternation and hilarity.

He later broke away from the Globetrotters and started his own comedy basketball team, the Magicians.

The first time I saw him in person was when he and the Magicians played at my high school in Tulsa. He was from Sand Springs, a nearby small town which is probably why our high school got the treat of a visit from the Magicians. I remember writing a story for the school newspaper about the game.

Two years later, my family moved to Sand Springs. This was 1964, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, and Sand Springs was a typical small town in the border South with a lot of the problems that racism had bred.

Its schools were strictly segregated. All of the black students from kindergarten through 12th grade went to one school—the school from which Marques Haynes had graduated. It had been built in 1898 and easily showed its age. Meanwhile, white students went to elementary school, junior high school and senior high school in separate, modern buildings. More importantly, the white schools offered a much greater variety of courses than did the black school.

That summer, the Tulsa branch of the Congress of Racial Equality was celebrating the passing of the Civil Rights Bill and the subsequent dismissal of charges against all of its members, myself included, who had been arrested in restaurant sit-ins.

As it next project, CORE took on the desegregation of the Sand Springs school system. Our organizing committee went from house to house in the town’s black community discussing the importance of ending discrimination in education. We encountered support from a number of parents and opposition from some teachers, who feared that they would lose their jobs if the schools were desegregated.

The organizing drive culminated in an open meeting for the whole black community. The church where it was held was packed. Person after person got up to address whether it was desirable to take on the school system. The balance of opinion was in favor, but there was reluctance and fear, too. A number of parents worried about how their children would be treated in a white school.

At this point, a well-dressed young black man stood up with a prepared statement. (Several people whispered that he had been sent by members of the all-white school board.) He argued that it was foolish to end the black school because it had graduated so many fine students who had gone on to great success, the most prominent having been Marques Haynes.

As he finished, a man shouted from the back of the church that he wanted to speak. “I am Marques Haynes. It is true that I have been successful, but that is because I have a very unusual talent. I never wanted to become a basketball player. I was forced to.

“When I went to high school, I really wanted to become a printer. But I couldn’t because there was no printing program in this school while there was one in the white school. If we want our children to have the most opportunities in life, they have to be able to go to decent schools.”

Marques Haynes had ended the debate with a dunk shot. A number of parents then came forward, announcing that their children would attempt to enroll in the white schools.

When the white school authorities refused to admit them, CORE filed a complaint with the federal Justice Department. With new enforcement powers from the Civil Rights Act, the Justice Department obliged the school board to integrate the system.

All of this was a minor footnote in the history of the civil rights movement—the New York Times reported the filing of the complaint to the Justice Department in a one-inch filler story.

Twenty-eight years later, though, Marques Haynes is still prominently playing basketball and sinking a lot of shots. Twenty-eight years later, I’m not sure whether I can still play basketball—and I was a kid when he was already famous as an adult player.

James W. Russell is associate professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University. Marques Haynes and the Harlem Magicians will be playing an exhibition game against the Windham CWE All Stars at Windham High School at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13. The game will be a benefit for Willimantic Midget Football. Tickets are $5 in advance and $6 at the door.

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