Communications & Public Affairs
Feb. 15, 2022

Contact: Rep. Monroe Nichols
(405) 557-7391

CORRECTION: This column was corrected to reflect the proper spelling of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher.

COLUMN: Black History Month Is Full of Reflection and Promise

By Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa

There has never been a more crucial time to remember Black History is American History.

For me, Black History Month has always been a time of reflection that brings out my pride as a Black man and deepens my resolve as an American and an Oklahoman.

For as long as we’ve been a country, the issue of race has been connected to our politics. Oftentimes, what is lost in contemporary political debates is the true story of Black Americans and why the road traveled is the greatest American story ever told – why it should always be told.

For me, American greatness is not so much found in who we’ve been or even who we are, which both provide important context for our story, but American greatness has always been best captured in who we strive and continue to fight to be.

We are a people working to push that heavy boulder up a steep hill of progress, and that boulder has always been the heaviest to move for Black Americans.

Oklahoma is central to the Black experience. In the words of E.P. McCade, “What will you be if you stay in the South? Slaves liable to be killed at any time, and never treated right. But if you come to Oklahoma, you have equal chances with the white man, free and independent,” like so many, Blacks escaping the racism of the American South, came to Oklahoma. Oklahoma was the promised land.

A debate about carving out a Black state in Oklahoma once reached the halls of Congress and the White House. Oklahoma of course did not become a Black state, and directly after statehood, Jim Crow Laws were passed to prevent the prosperity of Blacks in Oklahoma.

Blacks, surely deterred but not defeated, built towns across Oklahoma, and in my hometown, built the single greatest district of Black wealth in American History – Tulsa’s Greenwood District. However, in 1921, Greenwood was burned to the ground in an act of unspeakable racial violence, and killed more than 300 Oklahomans.

Like the story of Greenwood and Black towns across the state, Black Oklahomans have always been at the forefront of the fight for equal rights. Before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), there was Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher’s fight in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (1948) and George W. McLaurin’s fight in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950).

Before the sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter, which are largely credited with launching the sit-in movement across America in 1960, Oklahoma’s own Clara Luper led a group of students to sit in at Oklahoma City’s Katz drugstore in 1958 to challenge the very same laws that were crafted at statehood.

Black Americans have always been in a fight for the soul of America, and Black Oklahomans have been the heartbeat of that fight. It is impossible to truly love America and not take pride, regardless of your race, in the contributions to Black Americans.

The movement for equal rights is what has set America apart from any other country in the world. Oklahomans should have a special pride.

We are all part of a shared legacy, a dream captured in the words of Langston Hughes:

O, let America be America again—

The land that never has been yet—

And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—

Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Black History month is perhaps the greatest reminder that the dream of what our country can be is always a dream worth fighting for. Our history serves not as a source of blame but a collective call for America to be what we always promised it would be. Happy Black History Month, Oklahoma!