Racism and Public Policy in Oklahoma

Due to the deliberate political and social actions of whites, black Oklahomans began to lose ground economically earlier and at higher rates than their white counterparts during the early years of the Depression. In 1930, campaigning against “The Three C’s—Corporations, Carpetbaggers, and Coons,” William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray was elected governor of the state in a landslide victory. Murray had been working since the process of statehood application to formally exclude African Americans from Oklahoma’s political and social life.[1] Despite the gains in library funding, education spending earmarked for black schools was cut during the 1930s. African-American schools, no longer received schoolbooks from the state, and fear of job loss kept teachers from inquiring to the state about the lack of books.[2]

 

          Many black students were forced to cut short their schooling because they were needed to labor in the cotton fields to earn money for the family. Schools were consolidated and children could no longer make the trip to school due to the distance and lack of bus services.[3] As their families continued to struggle, malnourishment became a real issue for children attending school . [4]

African-American children were often malnourished due to the economic pressures faced by their families, and were often expected to work in the agricultural sector to help support their families.

         Of the schools of higher education, or industrial training for blacks in the state, all but Langston had closed by the mid-1940s, due to the economic pressures of the collapse of cotton and the Great Depression. [5] As the Great Depression drug on, African American education within the state was undermined by White Supremacist lawmakers who desired to transfer funds to white schools in predominantly black districts. When education funding became scarcer in Oklahoma, whites across the state worked to redraw districts to declare the white extra schools in black majority districts the new district school. They also intimidated black elected school board officials and made hostile takeover attempts of the school board positions. A law suit was filed in Lima, Oklahoma to protect the right of the black majority to preserve their school as the “district” school, and the white school as the “extra” school. The state’s funding regulation stated that the bulk of funding would go to the majority race “district” school, which had almost always been the white segregated school, the segregated “race” school would receive a much smaller percentage of the budget.[6]

[1] Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time, (New York: HoughtonMifflin,2006),108. “How ‘Alfalfa Bill’ Would Rewrite the Constitution,” Chicago Defender, (April 2, 1932), p 2. “Oklahoma Voters Fight Disfranchisement.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Feb 13, 1932. http://0-search.proquest.com.library.utulsa.edu/docview/492323207?accountid=14676.
[2] Figure 1: Lee, Russell, photographer. School teachers and pupils in Negro rural school. This year, despite the fact the white school received free books, none arrived for the Negros. The teacher was so afraid of losing her job that she would not make any inquiries about the books and the children were sharing the few books some could buy. Creek County, Oklahoma. Feb, 1940. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa2000016353/PP/. (Accessed November 21, 2016.) Figure 2: Lee, Russell, photographer. Negro rural school. Creek County, Oklahoma. Feb, 1940. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa2000016354/PP/. (Accessed November 21, 2016
[3] Lee, Russell, photographer. Abandoned brick schoolhouse. McIntosh County, Oklahoma. The tendency is towards consolidation of county schools. June, 1939. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa2000014977/PP/. (Accessed November 22, 2016.)
[4] Larry O’Dell, Oklahoma Historical Society “Colleges, African American” http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CO026, Accessed 11/05/2016.
[5] Lee, Russell, photographer. Daughter of Negro tenant farmer eating bread and flour gravy for dinner. Wagoner County, Oklahoma. June, 1939. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa2000014852/PP/. (Accessed November 22, 2016.) Figure 3: Lee, Russell, photographer. Kindergarden of Negro rural school. Creek County, Oklahoma. Feb, 1940. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/fsa2000016375/PP/. (Accessed November 21, 2016.)
[6] “The Black Dispatch,’ November 12, 1930, February 9, 1933, April 27,1933, December 17,1938. Reprinted in Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book, Oklahoma: Oklahoma Public Schools, (1971). P. 267.

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