1968: A piv­otal year

Tulsa World - - Front Page - John Klein News colum­nist john.klein @tul­saworld.com

When Vi­vian ClarkA­dams ar­rived at McLain High School in the mid-1960s, she was one of just 12 black chil­dren in her class of 455 stu­dents.

“Our fam­ily moved into what was pri­mar­ily a white neigh­bor­hood in north Tulsa,” ClarkA­dams said. “The neigh­bor­hood was tran­si­tion­ing to in­te­gra­tion. So was the school.

“It wasn't al­ways pleas­ant, but it was a very ex­cit­ing time, too. There was so much hap­pen­ing, so much change in our na­tion and in Tulsa when I be­came a se­nior in 1968.”

A 50th re­union of the class of 1968, for grad­u­ates of Booker T. Wash­ing­ton, McLain and Cen-

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Booker T. Wash­ing­ton teach­ers in­te­grate in 1968; TPS in­te­gra­tion time­line.

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tral high schools, will be held Sept. 16-22 at the Dou­bleTree by Hil­ton in down­town Tulsa.

“Hon­estly, my me­mories of my com­mu­nity in north Tulsa are mostly warm and fuzzy,” said Ta­nara Rea­gan Bowler, a Booker T. Wash­ing­ton grad­u­ate and re­tired teacher. “I can re­mem­ber there was so much go­ing on in north Tulsa. There were stores on both sides of the street any­where you went. There were gro­cery stores, din­ers, cloth­ing stores, skat­ing rink, bowl­ing al­ley. You name it; we had it up there.

“You did not need to go out of your com­mu­nity for any­thing. You lived in your com­mu­nity. You went to church and to school in your com­mu­nity. It was a dif­fer­ent world — a much dif­fer­ent world.”

Not only was 1968 a mo­men­tous time in U.S. his­tory, but it was also sig­nif­i­cant in Tulsa. It was the first year Tulsa Pub­lic Schools in­te­grated its teach­ing staffs.

Marvin McQuar­ters was in his se­nior year at Booker T. Wash­ing­ton High School in 1968.

“It was a big deal be­cause sud­denly we lost some of our fa­vorite teach­ers to other schools in the city, and now, we had some white teach­ers,” said McQuar­ters, a re­tired postal worker. “It was an ad­just­ment. It was dif­fer­ent.

“I went to pri­mar­ily black schools from kin­der­garten through col­lege (at Langston). So, for me, that stands out in my mem­ory. A lot of im­por­tant things in our coun­try's his­tory were go­ing on in 1968, but I still re­mem­ber all of a sud­den we had white teach­ers.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was as­sas­si­nated April 4, 1968.

“I was in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence class, and I re­mem­ber some stu­dents laugh­ing and oth­ers say­ing they were glad he was dead,” Clark-Adams said. “I was very an­gry. Then, Bobby Kennedy was as­sas­si­nated (June 5). So my mem­ory of my se­nior year in high school is kind of bit­ter­sweet. There was a lot of good, and there was a lot of bad.”

Doris Mar­shall was in school at Cen­tral when King died. “My mom called,” Mar­shall said. “All I re­mem­ber is that there were some peo­ple who were happy.”

The peace move­ment against the Viet­nam War was rag­ing, and ma­jor civil rights marches were held across the coun­try.

The first black power salute was seen on world­wide tele­vi­sion dur­ing the 1968 Olympics when black Amer­i­cans Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los raised a fist on the medal stand af­ter win­ning medals in the 200-me­ter sprint.

“I later met Tom­mie when I lived in Los An­ge­les, and it moved me,” said Clark-Adams, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at Tulsa Com­mu­nity Col­lege and former in­struc­tor at the Univer­sity of Tulsa. “There was just a lot go­ing on in 1968.”

Gail An­der­son had hoped to join her friends in high school at Booker T. Wash­ing­ton. But a re­zon­ing of school bor­ders within the dis­trict sent her to Cen­tral High School her sopho­more year.

“We had to catch a city bus from our neigh­bor­hood to go down­town and then walk over to the school,” An­der­son said. “There were 1,200 stu­dents in my sopho­more class. It was a huge school. There were stu­dents from all types of back­grounds. It was sort of cul­ture shock for us.

“I had al­ready been ex­posed to a lot of it. When we moved, we moved into

TPS time­line

Time­line of school in­te­gra­tion in Tulsa

Oliver Brown v. The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion in Topeka, Kan., re­sulted in the Supreme Court rul­ing that “sep­a­rate but equal” schools were un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Tulsa Board of Ed­u­ca­tion ap­proved a pol­icy for new bound­aries that de­cided what school would be at­tended by chil­dren in cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods. The newly drawn lines put some black chil­dren in pre­vi­ously all-white schools and vice versa.

Five teenagers be­came the first black stu­dents at Cen­tral High School.

At­ten­dance ar­eas of Booker T. Wash­ing­ton High School and Carver Ju­nior High School, which were both pre­dom­i­nantly black, were changed, send­ing more black stu­dents to Cen­tral High School and Roo­sevelt Ju­nior High School.

Por­tions of John­son Ele­men­tary School and Carver Ju­nior High School were added to schools with mostly white stu­dent pop­u­la­tions.

Act­ing on Jan­uary 1968 com­plaints by the Ok­la­homa Equal Op­por­tu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice at­tor­neys file a fed­eral law­suit against TPS, say­ing the dis­trict has vi­o­lated the con­sti­tu­tional rights of some black stu­dents be­cause its schools are still seg­re­gated. If the dis­trict does not de­velop an in­te­gra­tion plan, it stands to lose $5 mil­lion in fed­eral aid.

Nearly 190 teach­ers were in­vol­un­tar­ily trans­ferred to al­ter white-to-black-fac­ulty ra­tios.

Tulsa Pub­lic Schools be­gan its first phase of de­seg­re­ga­tion that in­cluded con­struc­tion of a de­seg­re­gated mag­net pro­gram at Booker T. Wash­ing­ton High School.

A fed­eral judge or­ders the his­tor­i­cally black Wash­ing­ton to in­te­grate by the fall se­mes­ter of 1973.

1954: 1955: 1957: 1965: 1967: July 30, 1968: 1968: 1971: Early 1973:

a neigh­bor­hood (near John Bur­roughs Ele­men­tary School, 1924 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) with just two black fam­i­lies.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing in the sec­ond grade, and I was scared to go to school. I have a mem­ory of my brother, who was in kin­der­garten at the time, and we were hold­ing hands be­ing very scared. Kids threw rocks at us. Par­ents chanted, `Two-four-six­eight, we don't want to in­te­grate.'

“It got bet­ter, and a lot more black kids came to our school. But it was such a piv­otal time in all of our lives. 1968 was full of so much change.”

Mar­shall also was in Cen­tral's 1968 grad­u­at­ing class.

“I re­ally wanted to go to school at Booker T. be­cause that's where all of my friends were go­ing,” Mar­shall said. “I ended up at Cen­tral be­cause it was sort of the start of in­te­gra­tion.

McQuar­ters, who comes from a famed north Tulsa ath­letic fam­ily, said he grew up in a fam­ily of nine chil­dren in a neigh­bor­hood close to Booker T. Wash­ing­ton High School in the 1960s.

His fam­ily and friends all went to the same schools. Then he went to Langston.

“So when I joined the Air Force, it was my first real ex­pe­ri­ence with white peo­ple,” McQuar­ters said. “I was in a group of 50 guys when I got to boot camp, and I was the only black guy.

“I had lived in this lit­tle com­mu­nity of peo­ple just like me, and I was al­ways sort of shy and quiet. In the Air Force, I had to learn to speak up for my­self.”

Bowler said she sel­dom left her north Tulsa neigh­bor­hood. How­ever, she re­mem­bers a shop­ping trip to down­town Tulsa when she was 5 years old.

“I went to get a drink of wa­ter while my mom was shop­ping,” Bowler said. “There was a col­ored drink­ing foun­tain and a whites only drink­ing foun­tain. One was dirty. One was clean. So I didn't know. I started drink­ing wa­ter from the clean wa­ter foun­tain. A guy came over and an­grily told me to quit drink­ing from the foun­tain.

“My mother came over and got me. We went right home. My mom never ex­plained to me what hap­pened. I fig­ured it out many years later. It was a dif­fer­ent era.”

Bowler spent 35 years work­ing in speech therapy, in­clud­ing a pe­riod when she taught English to Viet­namese chil­dren at the end of the Viet­nam War.

Mar­shall spent her ca­reer in Los An­ge­les, Austin and Tulsa in recre­ation and bank­ing.

Adams spent her ca­reer in col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tion in the Tulsa area.

An­der­son worked in lab­o­ra­tory re­search and bank­ing, some of it in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“It was a strange time,” An­der­son said. “We were old enough to know some of the Black Wall Street sur­vivors, and we heard their sto­ries. We be­came in­volved in what was go­ing on in Tulsa and around the world. We were un­der­go­ing some­thing sim­i­lar in Tulsa to what was hap­pen­ing in the world.

“It was the civil rights era. We had some strug­gles and some losses, but it was chang­ing.”

Bowler said she misses the sense of com­mu­nity she felt grow­ing up in north Tulsa.

“This com­mu­nity was bonded to­gether,” she said. “You never walked down the street with­out speak­ing to ev­ery­one you saw.

“I guess that's what I'm look­ing for­ward to the most for the 1968 class re­union. I want to say hi to ev­ery­one. We all had ex­pe­ri­ences in 1968. We un­der­stand how it was. It'll be great to see peo­ple that had the same ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Year­book photos of Gail An­der­son (left), Doris Lawrey Mar­shall, Vi­vian Clark-Adams, Marvin McQuar­ters and Ta­nara Rea­gan Bowler from 1968.

JOSEPH RUSHMORE/for the Tulsa World

Gail An­der­son (left), Doris Lawrey Mar­shall, Vi­vian ClarkA­dams, Marvin McQuar­ters and Ta­nara Rea­gan Bowler meet at the Green­wood Cul­tural Cen­ter last week to dis­cuss plans for a re­union of the class of 1968 from Booker T. Wash­ing­ton, McLain and Cen­tral high schools.

JOSEPH RUSHMORE/for the Tulsa World

Gail An­der­son (left), Doris Lawrey Mar­shall, Ta­nara Rea­gan Bowler, Vi­vian Clark-Adams and Marvin McQuar­ters meet at the Green­wood Cul­tural Cen­ter last week to dis­cuss plans for a re­union of the class of 1968 from Booker T. Wash­ing­ton, McLain and Cen­tral high schools.

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