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18 Feb
0

Oklahoma Black History Heroes: Don R. Ross

Don Ross

Don Ross, the son of Israel Ross and Pearline Vann (Evette) Ross, was born on March 11, 1941, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After graduating from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1959, he joined the Air Force for four years. In 1963, he returned to Tulsa, where he found a job in a bakery. “I was the first black union baker in the state of Oklahoma,” Ross said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography.

Don Ross, civil rights activist and journalist, was first elected to the Oklahoma State Legislature in 1982. During his 20-year career as a legislator, Ross focused primarily on education, the arts, labor relations, economic development, and affirmative action. As a state legislator, Ross has focused primarily on education, the arts, labor relations, economic development, and affirmative action. He has also struggled to improve health services, social services, and cultural opportunities for African Americans and other minorities.

Among the laws Ross has authored were Oklahoma’s first affirmative action law–a law establishing preferences for minority vendors–and affirmative action goals for higher education. Ross helped to establish a state holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and lobbied to have Interstate 244, which runs along the border of the Greenwood district of Tulsa, renamed for King. Ross was also the principal author of legislation updating Oklahoma’s child labor laws.

Of all his accomplishments in the legislature, Ross is proudest of the fact that he led the fight to take down the Confederate flag flying above the building. “When I was sworn in in 1984, my son Edward was with me,” Ross told CBB. “He asked why we flew that flag. I had no answer for him. I had never noticed it.” In 1989, Oklahoma became the first state in the nation to take down the Confederate flag above its governmental buildings.

During his legislative career, Ross has held several leadership positions. He has served as secretary and chairman of the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, and vice-chairman of the Tulsa County Democratic Party. He was chairman of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus from 1982 to 1984 and again from 1986 until 1988. Ross has also served as chairman of the speaker’s committee on at-risk youth, and cochairman of Oklahoma Task Force on African-American Males.

Ross has brought more than $79 million to north Tulsa–the city’s predominantly African American area–including funding for health care, and programs for children and senior citizens. He has been named “legislator of the year” 13 times by organizations ranging from the NAACP and the Native American Chamber of Commerce to the Mental Health Association and Americans for Civil Liberties.

Outside of his home state, Ross is best known for his efforts to uncover the truth about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, thought to be one of the most violent race riots in American history. For more than fifty years, the riot was hushed up; several books on Tulsa history omitted it altogether. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ross was one of the first journalists to write about the Tulsa riot, even as both blacks and whites criticized him for opening old wounds. Later, as a state legislator, Ross drafted a bill creating the Tulsa Riot Commission, a team that would be charged with discovering what had really happened in 1921.

During the early 1960s, Ross became involved in the city’s fledgling civil rights movement. “I had activist friends who recruited me,” Ross told CBB. “We demonstrated. We picketed segregated restaurants and parks, and employers who wouldn’t hire African Americans.” Although Ross was arrested several times, he told CBB that the civil rights struggle in Tulsa was mainly nonviolent. In addition to his work in Tulsa, Ross was active in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, and attended the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Started Weekly Column

Also in 1963, Ross began to explore the possibilities of a career in journalism. “I got into it by accident,” Ross told CBB. “One of the editors of the local black paper [the Oklahoma Eagle] had a deadline, and he asked me to get the who, what, where, when, and why.”

Soon afterward, Ross was offered the chance to write a weekly column for the Eagle. “It was a column of my observations about social issues and urban issues. Sometimes it was satirical,” Ross told CBB. “I’ve written a weekly column since 1963.” Originally titled “From the Ghetto,” Ross’s column was later renamed “City Life,” and then “Urban Shades,” its current name. While the column’s name has changed, “it still has the same texture,” Ross told CBB.

In the mid-1960s, Ross enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly Central State University), where he majored in journalism; however, he did not complete his degree until 1986. In 1989, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Central Oklahoma. He has also attended the University of Tulsa College of Law, and studied labor relations at Rutgers University and Columbia University.

In 1967, Ross became labor affairs director at the Tulsa Urban League, a position he held until 1972. Meanwhile, he continued to write for the Oklahoma Eagle. In 1968, he wrote three columns about the history of the Tulsa Race Riot. “This was the first time that the story had hit the public,” Ross told CBB.

During the early 1970s, Ross helped to establish a regional magazine called Impact. “It was modeled after Ebony magazine,” Ross told CBB. “It focused on arts, history, and culture, like Ebony.” In 1971, the fiftieth anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot, Ross wrote an article about it for Impact. The reaction from readers was surprisingly hostile. Ross was quoted in a Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service story, “Both blacks and whites got on my case for causing trouble. I had violated the conspiracy of silence going on for 50 years.”

Became One of First Black Managing Editors

In 1972, Ross was offered a job as assistant managing editor at the Gary Post-Tribune in Gary, Indiana. At the time, there were very few black journalists, let alone editors; Ross was one of the first African Americans to work on the management team of a major metropolitan newspaper. “It was culture shock,” Ross told CBB. “I had never lived in a predominantly black community, with a black mayor. At the time Gary was the headquarters of the drug culture–it was a tough place.”

However, Ross credits the time he spent in Gary with inspiring him to make his own run for office. “As a journalist, I was covering that scene, watching the power work,” he told CBB. “I was able to draw my own conclusions about what should be done.”

In 1977, Ross moved back to Tulsa to take a position as vice president and general manager of the Oklahoma Eagle. After a year, he left the paper to launch his own public relations firm, Don Ross & Associates. Almost 20 years later, in 1995, Ross relaunch the company as Ebony Partners. In addition to public relations, Ebony Partners has created two photographic exhibits–one on the history of jazz in Oklahoma, and one on the Tulsa Race Riot–which have traveled internationally.

Elected to Oklahoma House of Representatives

In the early eighties, Ross decided to run for a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Elected in the fall of 1982, he would go on to serve in the legislature for 18 years. “It was a natural evolution from the Civil Rights Movement,” Ross told CBB. “The power to make a change is in politics, not just in the streets. Many activists from that period have since become politicians.”

As a state legislator, Ross has focused primarily on education, the arts, labor relations, economic development, and affirmative action. He has also struggled to improve health services, social services, and cultural opportunities for African Americans and other minorities.

Among the laws Ross has authored were Oklahoma’s first affirmative action law–a law establishing preferences for minority vendors–and affirmative action goals for higher education. Ross helped to establish a state holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and lobbied to have Interstate 244, which runs along the border of the Greenwood district of Tulsa, renamed for King. Ross was also the principal author of legislation updating Oklahoma’s child labor laws.

Of all his accomplishments in the legislature, Ross is proudest of the fact that he led the fight to take down the Confederate flag flying above the building. “When I was sworn in in 1984, my son Edward was with me,” Ross told CBB. “He asked why we flew that flag. I had no answer for him. I had never noticed it.” In 1989, Oklahoma became the first state in the nation to take down the Confederate flag above its governmental buildings.

During his legislative career, Ross has held several leadership positions. He has served as secretary and chairman of the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, and vice-chairman of the Tulsa County Democratic Party. He was chairman of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus from 1982 to 1984 and again from 1986 until 1988. Ross has also served as chairman of the speaker’s committee on at-risk youth, and cochairman of Oklahoma Task Force on African-American Males.

Ross also served as  chairman of the appropriations and budget subcommittee on health and social services, with responsibility for more than $1.2 billion annually. He is also a member of the rules committee, the education committee, and the appropriations, energy, and transportation committee. In addition to his responsibilities as state legislator, Ross has served on the executive committee of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), and as special assistant to the NBCSL president.

During his years in the legislature, Ross has brought more than $79 million in funding to north Tulsa, the city’s predominantly African American area. He has also tried to increase economic development in the area through tourism. As part of this effort, Ross has worked to develop the Greenwood Cultural Center, located in the heart of Tulsa’s African American community. The center is a multipurpose education, arts and humanities complex that promotes the history, culture and contributions of Tulsa’s black artists and scholars.

Launched Investigation into Tulsa Race Riot

Ross has also struggled to gain recognition for the Tulsa Race Riot, which had nearly wiped out the Greenwood community decades before. The riot began with a seemingly innocuous event: a young black man, Dick Rowland, boarded an elevator operated by a young white woman, Sarah Page. What exactly happened next is unclear–one historian suggests Rowland accidentally stepped on Page’s foot–but police arrested Rowland and charged him with assault. The next day, a crowd of whites and blacks gathered at the courthouse. Fighting broke out, and quickly spread to the Greenwood district. By the next day, all of Greenwood was in flames.

Ross was the principal organizer of the 75th anniversary commemorations of the 1921 riot. The ceremony included the dedication of “The Wall Street Memorial,” a ten-foot granite monument inscribed with the names of more than 200 black-owned businesses that were destroyed by the flames.

In 1997, Ross cosponsored legislation to establish the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. “Four years ago, if I had proposed a Tulsa Race Riot Commission, I would have been laughed off the House floor,” Ross commented in the newspaper Tulsa World at the time. “Even though the legislature is more conservative today, there are more people on all sides–including the governor and the mayor–who are pushing for this project and others that would benefit the citizens of north Tulsa.” The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, an eleven-member group, was charged with studying the events of the riot, and making recommendations about reparations. The commission, which has interviewed dozens of people who survived the riot, is due to deliver a report in the spring of 2000.

In November of 2000, Ross was once again elected to the Oklahoma legislature. Under the state’s term-limits law, he is eligible to serve until 2004. Ross’s future plans include writing a book about the history of African Americans in Oklahoma. “The book will begin with the African American journey on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma,” Ross told CBB. “My family roots go back to the Trail of Tears. My grandmother and grandfather survived the Tulsa Race Riot–my auntie was born the year of the riot. I want to write about how segregation molded the community, and the different laws and changes that have been made.”

Awards

Outstanding Service, National Urban League; Outstanding Staff Member, Tulsa Urban League; Distinguished Merit Citation, National Conference of Christians and Jews; Meritorious Journalism, Associated Press; named Legislator of the Year 13 times.

18 Feb
0

House Democrats Comment on Death of Smoking Preemption Bill

State of Oklahoma

House of Representatives

 

February 18, 2013

 

For immediate release:

Contact: MaryAnn Martin, Ph.D.

(405) 962-7819

  

House Democrats Comment on the Death of the Smoking Preemption Bill

in the State Senate

 

OKLAHOMA CITY- Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, comments on the senate committee’s failure to pass the smoking preemption bill today:

“As much as Republicans talk about ‘local control,’ House Democrats are disappointed that Republican members of the Senate General Government Committee did not put their money where their mouths are and let Oklahomans decide smoking and tobacco laws for themselves. We were proud to stand with Governor Fallin, public health officials, and civic leaders from around the state in support of the smoking preemption legislation. Tobacco-related diseases are just one of the ways in which Oklahoma continues to fall behind in the area of public health. We missed an opportunity to improve our state’s overall health. House Democrats remain committed to working with the Governor to find a way bring local control of smoking ordinances to a vote on the House floor this session.”

 

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14 Feb
0

BARRESI CAUGHT IN A LIE?

For Immediate Release
February 14, 2013
Contact: Trav Robertson
405.427.3366

 BARRESI CAUGHT IN A LIE?

Superintendent of Public Instruction Shows Poor Judgement 

Oklahoma City- According to a report in Thursday’s Tulsa World, State Schools Superintendent Jaent Barresi on Tuesday told a group at the Tulsa County Republican Women’s luncheon that the authors of the report criticizing Barresi’s A-F grading system have since debunked their own report, but the authors have stated that they are standing by their original review.

The article quotes an attendee at the luncheon as saying that Barresi told them “that she would like an apology from the authors with as much fanfare as the release of the of the report.” She implied that the members of the group had renounced their findings, senior project coordinator Patrick Forsyth said, “I have no idea where that idea on the part of the superintendent came from. We are perplexed by that and don’t know what to make of it.”

The A-F grading system, a hallmark of Barresi’s administration, has been widely criticized as being both unfair and inaccurate. The team that authored the study consisted of research scientists and assistants from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University’s Center for Education Research and Evaluation. In addition, it was independently reviewed by internationally respected researchers and scholars, who concurred with the report’s findings.

Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Wallace Collins said, “Regrettably, this is another example of the poor performance and bad behavior we have come to expect from Superintendent Barresi. I don’t know whether her remarks represent ignorance or deception, but Oklahomans deserve better.”

 

###
Source: Authors Dispute Claim By Barresi (Tulsa World)

14 Feb
0

Rep. Floyd introduces suicide prevention bill

State of Oklahoma

House of Representatives

 

February 13, 2013

 

For immediate release:

Contact: Rep. Kay Floyd

(405) 557-7396

 

Rep. Floyd introduces suicide prevention bill

 

OKLAHOMA CITY– A recent study cited suicide as the second leading cause of death among school-age children in Oklahoma.

To combat this trend, Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, introduced HB 1623, which would provide school-wide training for school staff and students that focuses on suicide prevention and early intervention.

“Our children face so many pressures today,” said Floyd. “This bill will help Oklahoma’s school children arm themselves against peer pressure, bullying, and other challenges that are related to suicide. My bill provides for counseling, referrals, training, medical care and other assistance for vulnerable youth in our state so that we can hopefully reverse this trend that has such an impact on our communities overall.”

Floyd’s legislation provides for large, school-wide presentations to staff, parents, and students using early intervention techniques and real examples and testimony from those who have dealt directly with student suicide and bullying.

“Adults should protect our children and give them the tools and resources necessary to be healthy and live their lives to the fullest,” said Floyd. “This training will not only help individuals, but will also increase community awareness so our schools can be one step closer to becoming the safe havens they should be for our kids.”

 

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13 Feb
0

Oklahoma Black History Heroes: Opio Toure

Opio Toure
March 31, 1954 – February 4, 2008

Opio  Toure, a former Oklahoma State Representative, lawyer, activist, mentor and Langston University alumnus. Toure (who had changed his name from Ezellmo A. Stephens) was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on March 31, 1954. He was the eldest of five siblings.  Toure received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Langston University in 1976, a J.D. from the University Of Oklahoma School Of Law in 1979, and a Masters of Divinity from Phillips Theological Seminary in 2001.

Toure was greatly active in the Oklahoma legislature. He served with honor and distinction as a member of the Oklahoma Democratic Legislature from 1994 to 2006 during this time, he was appointed to leadership roles including serving as the Democratic Floor Leader.  Opio Toure also had the distinguish honor as being a former president of the Oklahoma City Association of Black Lawyers and the Northeast Youth Athletic Association. He also once served on the Board of Directors of Oklahoma City Northeast, Inc., and was once a county co-chair of the Oklahoma County Democratic Party.

One of Toure’s many notable accomplishments included writing legislation in 2003 that gave people who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned the right to apply for up to $175,000 in compensation, and in 2002, he was awarded the Angie Debo Award by the American Civil Liberties Union. During the same year, Toure, who was a die-hard opponent of the death penalty, shepherded House Bill 2635 through the Legislature, which was a measure that sought to stop the execution of mentally disabled offenders with intelligence quotients of 70 and/or below, and received wide bipartisan support. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the case of Atkins v. the state of Virginia that executing the mentally disabled was in fact cruel and unusual punishment.

For more than 30 years, Toure served as a dedicated and proud Langston alumnus who advocated publicly for the advancement of the university. At the time of his death, Toure, who had taken a position as assistant professor at Langston University in January 2007, was very instrumental in developing the institution’s Pre-Law Initiative, a program geared towards getting more students of African descent into law schools. He also served as associate pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Meridian, Oklahoma. “Opio Toure was a compassionate Christian man who worked tirelessly on behalf of those who have no voice, and Oklahoma is a better place because of him,” said, Representative Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City. “He was a dear friend and fellow lawmaker, and I was humbled and inspired by his life and legacy.”