The Desegregation of Charles Page High School in 1964

By John Neal –


Charles Page High School in Sand Springs, Oklahoma from the 1965 Sandite yearbook of student Barbara Eichenfeld courtesy of the author.

In honor of the integrating students:

Dollie Chambers, Cortez Johnson, Vicki Westbrook, Calvin Long, Keith Robinson, Marcia Jones. Marvin Stewart, Betty Towns, and Douglas Westbrook.

Preface and Acknowledgements


This piece was written principally for my schoolmates of Charles Page High School in 1964 when the school was desegregated.

I did not learn much of what is written herein until very recent years. It originated with a desire to learn more about the Tulsa Race Massacre and Sand Springs’ possible role in it. Like many of you, I did not know of its occurrence until well into adulthood. Later in life, I wanted to learn more.

As I was researching the subject I came across, quite by accident, the website of James W. Russell. At the site, he has a section on the integration of Sand Springs schools. I was shocked to learn there had been fierce resistance to desegregation by the Sand Springs School Board and its Superintendent, and other related events.

I reached out to Mr. Russell, and a series of correspondences and conversations ensued in which Mr. Russell expressed a desire to “recapture” the actual history of the desegregation efforts. He is a primary source for what is written here. http://www.jameswrussell.com/

However, we had other collaborators in our recapturing efforts, including my wife (the former Barbara Eichenfeld), Calvin Long, Cortez Johnson, and Kenneth Ray Jr. All but the last person were fellow schoolmates at CPHS in 1964. Kenneth is the son of Kenneth Ray Sr., who was a pastor in the Black neighborhood at the time and played a prominent role in the desegregation efforts. I also had conversations about many of the events with Bob Lemons, Senior Class President, and my former debate partner.


Mr. Russell is also contemplating a video documentary chronicling the events. I decided to expand my research and create a written chronicle of what happened, and provide a comprehensive context.

Dianna Phillips, the Museum Coordinator of the Sand Springs Cultural and Historical Museum, helped me with much of the research concerning the early history of Sand Springs. She made numerous, valuable contributions to that section of the manuscript.

The Desegregation of Charles Page High School in 1964

Only weeks after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the first complaint in Oklahoma was prepared for federal court. It gained nationwide attention. As reported in the NY Times on August 21, 1964: “Five Negro students were refused enrollment today in the 10th and 11th grades of Charles Page High School and met with United States Attorney John Imel to discuss the filing of a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1964”. [1] The Tulsa Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality organized the school desegregation effort. The Black neighborhood in Sand Springs received support and inspiration from professional basketball legend Marques Haynes who was raised in Sand Springs. This would mark the culmination of those efforts; the Sand Springs School Board and Superintendent having battled to preserve segregation in the Sand Springs public schools.


Basketball hall-of-fame member, civil rights advocate, and Sand Springs-native Marques Haynes, courtesy of Public Radio Tulsa.


The high school is named after town founder Charles Page, who is still revered in this small city located just west of Tulsa. He is foremost recognized for his philanthropy by establishing and funding a large orphanage (Sand Springs Home) and a residential housing complex for widows and their children (Widows Colony). Already wealthy when he was lured to the area by the Tulsa oil boom of the early 20th century, Page embarked on the making of an idealized city for industry and commerce.

Jamey Landis, a Sand Springs historical chronicler, put it like this, “Charles Page swiftly set about creating his ideal industrial city with a boldness that shocked even Tulsa’s more daring business leaders. He established a transportation system, water supply, and electrical power that enabled him to hire businesses and industries with the promise of free land, low-priced utilities, and a $20,000 resettlement bonus. Sand Springs boomed and continued to thrive despite obstacles such as the great depression and violent labor disputes.” [2] But the founding of the town by Page was not without controversy and the town was segregated from its outset.

Charles Page High School student Cortez Johnson, one of the first black students to attend the school, from the 1965 Sandite yearbook, courtesy of the author.

Indian Land and a Segregated Community


Prior to the Dawes Act of 1887 Native American lands were held by tribes as communal property. This Act coerced tribes into severing the land into allotments to individual tribal members to be held as private property. In a short period of time thereafter, they could sell it to whites. Historian D.S. Otis wrote this Allotment Act (as it was also named) “… was one of the most important pieces of legislation dealing with Indian affairs in United States history.” [3] It may have also been the most disastrous. Proponents of the legislation argued that this would transform Indian civilization, creating entrepreneurs and farmers, aligning its culture more closely with white society. Otis wrote, “On the other hand, as has been shown, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that there were definite and powerful interests behind allotment which were not philanthropic at all; that homesteader, land companies, and perhaps railroads, saw allotment as a legal way of getting at wide areas of Indian lands.” [4]

Thus, at the turn of the century and continuing thereafter, individual Indians found themselves in possession of sizeable tracts of land they could sell to anyone. But they had no experience valuing the worth of the land in a capitalistic exchange. The Five Civilized Tribes had been forcibly removed to Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears between 1830 and 1850. Following the Civil War three dozen other tribes were also removed to Oklahoma, including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache. These tribes lost vast acres of communal tribal land by the Allotment Act. For example, the Creeks lost two million acres of their allotted domain. [5] Jamey Landis noted, “In 1908, full-blooded Creeks were allowed to sell their land to non-Native Americans, and Charles Page quickly purchased large tracts of land…” [6] Several lawsuits resulted from these cheap land acquisitions but Page was able to hold on to the lands. The original Sand Springs township was platted in 1911 consisting initially of 160 acres.

That same year the Southside Addition containing about 33 acres was platted by Page for African Americans, establishing at the outset a segregated community.

An additional Black community was south of Sand Springs. This area had been in existence since at least 1906. Later it became known as Buford Colony, named after J.E. Buford, a Black educator, and principal of Booker T. Washington School in Sand Springs. While Buford Colony was largely a sprawling farming and residential area, the Southside Addition in the early part of the century had hotels, cafes, and a grocery store.

The Black ancestry of the people in the two neighborhoods has not been comprehensively traced. It is known that many Indian tribes owned slaves, including those relocated to Oklahoma. “By 1861, eight to ten thousand Black people were enslaved throughout Indian Territory.” [7] Following the Civil War, the federal government in 1866 required their emancipation. It is reasonable to conjecture that Creek and other Indian tribes’ former slaves may have settled in the Sand Springs area. For example, in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Historical Society notes, “From 1865 to 1920 African Americans created more than fifty identifiable towns and settlements, some of short duration and some still existing at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” [8]

Together the two Black communities would fight for desegregation of the Sand Springs schools in the 1960s.


Oklahoma's Civil Rights Struggles


Oklahoma has a long history of Black civil rights struggles. The Oklahoma Constitution of 1907 did not mandate complete segregation because of fear President Roosevelt would not approve the Constitution with his signature. But it did segregate schools in Article XIII Section 3. It was finally removed by statewide plebiscite in 1965. [9]

Midcentury Oklahoma had been a hotbed of civil rights protests. Most early protests centered around restaurants and public accommodations. For example, Clara Luper led a 1958 sit-in at the Katz restaurant in Oklahoma City, two years prior to the heralded Greensboro sit-in. This sit-in led to numerous other demonstrations at lunch counters, cafeterias, churches, and amusement parks, as well as marches, voter registration drives, and boycotts. [10] Many were successful. In the same year of the integration of CPHS, there were picket lines in front of Tulsa City Hall demanding integration, [11] and police arrested 54 persons attempting to integrate a Tulsa restaurant. [12]

All of this had been preceded by the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921. The Sand Springs Leader reported that some of the refugees who escaped the massacre were sent to Sand Springs. They were provided food, shelter, and a safe environment in the “colored school building.” [13] Some may have remained in Sand Springs. Newspaper accounts of the period portrayed Sand Springs’ role in a positive light. But it did not lead to desegregation within the community.

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education shattered the myth that school systems, one for Blacks and one for whites, could ever be equal, ruling separate was inherently unequal. In Oklahoma, not only did the Constitution mandate segregated schools but funding for white and Black schools were separated. It was not until 1955 that resources were placed in a common school fund, but gross inequality continued. [14]

Student Calvin Long from the 1965 Sandite yearbook, courtesy of the author.

Separate and Unequal


Oklahoma was beginning to slowly change in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the aftermath of Brown v Board of Education and vigorous civil rights actions. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded in 1942, was an inter-racial organization fighting racial discrimination. In the early 1960s, it was one of the leading organizations challenging public segregation in the South. In the summer of 1964, the Tulsa chapter of CORE turned their attention to the Sand Springs schools led by James W. Russell, a nineteen-year-old resident of Sand Springs and a CORE member.

While Sand Springs was at its manufacturing and industrial apex in the 1960s, it remained a strictly segregated community. Separated only by the Katy Railroad tracks, forays by Blacks across the tracks were limited to domestic help and work in a few white-owned businesses. But it was the stark contrast in public schools that drew CORE’s attention.

A police officer carrying a young girl walks past three civil rights demonstrators on the ground next to the Tulsa, Oklahoma, police station on April 2, 1964. The demonstrators were part of 54 arrested at a Tulsa restaurant. Members of the group, backed by the Congress of Racial Equality, went limp when arrested and forced officers to carry them from the restaurant and the paddy wagon. Image courtesy of The Atlantic.


Segregated schooling for Blacks began in a church in 1912 until the Booker T. Washington School was built for the 1914-1915 school term. Charles Page donated the land for both the church and school. [15] The school construction was probably funded by the Rosenwald Fund. Julian Rosenwald was the founder and CEO of Sears, Roebuck, and Company. He partnered with Booker T. Washington to build over 5,300 schools for Blacks throughout the South from the early 1910s to the 1930s. [16] In Oklahoma alone, 176 schoolhouses were built. [17]

James Russell provided the following information on Booker T. Washington School and Charles Page High School to the CORE Tulsa Chapter contrasting the black and white segregated schools" [18]

"Booker T. Washington School located in the Southside Addition has approximately 400 students aged 6 to 18 housed in a single building. Course curriculum there offered only 35 ½ credits compared to Charles Page High School’s (CPHS) 84. The comparable shortcomings were many, ranging from higher mathematics and Latin to auto mechanics and typing, as mere examples. The school structure in contrast was decrepit for blacks while the Sand Spring’s high school had facilities for debate, choir, home economics, modern stagecraft, an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, and football stadium, etc. The high school division of Booker T. Washington had 67 students compared to 900 at CPHS. One justification the School Board initially used to deny admission was the falsehood that CPHS wasn’t large enough to add all the Black students. This lie was later abandoned when the organizing group learned the facility was built to accommodate 1,000 students."

It should come as no surprise that the Sand Springs School Board and Superintendent vigorously opposed integration. This had occurred and continued to occur all across the South and in Oklahoma even after Brown (1954) had ordered desegregation “with all deliberate speed”. Many local school districts in the State tried voluntary plans which had been sanctioned by the State Board of Education beginning in 1955, but they almost invariably achieved little. For example, a voluntary plan was submitted by Tulsa in 1965 but Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa was not fully desegregated until 1973. [19] In 1972 a federal court judge ordered the Oklahoma City School Board “to develop desegregation plans so the individual student populations would be reflective of the overall minority population.” [20]


Resistance, Betrayal, Success


In a preliminary meeting with CORE representatives, the Sand Springs School Superintendent and its Board Clerk initially argued Booker T. Washington School was adequate and the citizens were satisfied. Later in the meeting, they fell back on the further lie that CPHS was at its enrollment limit and could not house all the Black high school students. At the end of the meeting, the school officials conceded a partial integration was feasible. At the next Board meeting, CORE members and residents from the Black neighborhood attended in hopes of further discussion of the matter. However, the Board refused to discuss the issue. Mr. Russell reported that the School Board Clerk exclaimed, “I will not be pressured by a sit-in, or whatever this is.” [21]


In response, a Black neighborhood meeting was called to develop a concrete proposal. While the majority were in favor of integration there was also reluctance and fear. The tipping point came when Marques Haynes rose to speak. Haynes was one of the most accomplished and recognized professional basketball players of the era, having starred with the Harlem Globetrotters. Haynes resided near Buford Colony in Sand Springs. Haynes swayed the crowd when he noted he had not wanted to be a basketball player. “When I went to high school, I really wanted to be 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.” [22]

At the next Board meeting, Haynes made their proposal with the support of Black community leader Reverend Kenneth Ray. It consisted of three parts: 1) Rezoning of schools for uniformity, 2) Integrating 10th, 11th, and 12th-grade students into CPHS, and 3) Maintain and integrate Booker T. Washington teachers into the Sand Springs school system. The Board rejected the proposal but agreed to admit 18 of the 67 eligible students. [23]

Subsequently, the Superintendent attempted to deter students from applying for transfers with unveiled threats. They and their parents were told that there would be violence if they did so and that Black students were not smart enough to “make it." [24] Following the outright refusal to admit five underclassmen, the students and parents sought admission via a federal court complaint. The Board partially relented and announced it would admit at least ten students to the high school. [25]


Fear, Silence, Incidents


Nine Black students attended CPHS in 1964. The three seniors, one junior, and five sophomores that were admitted did not know what to expect. They had all witnessed the reluctance and fear within the Black community. They had experienced resistance from the white school board and school superintendent, as well as fearful admonishments from school administrators. Yet they had all volunteered, seeking a better education and greater opportunity.

While the students had a certain awareness of confrontation and violence at the desegregation of schools elsewhere, they surely didn’t know that violent opposition and resistance to segregation was common throughout the country. Three years later in 1967, more than 13 years after the Brown decision, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that “violence against Negroes continues to be a deterrent to school desegregation.” [26]

The white students were totally uninformed and unprepared for their arrival. Contributing to the unpreparedness was the last-minute timing of the capitulation by the school board. The local newspaper, The Sand Springs Leader, reported on the Black student’s enrollment just days before the start of classroom instruction but made no mention of the controversy. [27] Nevertheless, no efforts were made to prepare the white students. Black residents were a total enigma to them. As George Everett, a chronicler of Sand Springs history would later note of that time period, “Colored Town … was such a great sociological distance that it was easy to forget it was even there.” [28]

White children in Sand Springs had been taught virtually nothing about the Civil War, slavery, or Jim Crow. Fortunately, perhaps, they also knew nothing of the Tulsa Race Massacre, then over 40 years in the past. So, when the Black students arrived there was no school assembly, no teacher instruction, and based on informal surveys of former students, few family discussions to prepare them. It’s as if all the adults held their breath and waited to see what would happen. Racism has to be taught and the mid-teen students were naive. Consequently, adverse events were limited, but race-based incidents and emotionally wrenching experiences did occur. Here is a contemporaneously compiled list of remembered experiences and/or incidents reported by students attending CPHS in 1964.


Experiences and Incidents


Some Black residents feared their community would ultimately be lost.

Some Booker T. Washington teachers and administrators feared losing their jobs. Most did.

Pressured by threats, James Russell’s mother moved out of Sand Springs.

A prominent Black pastor who supported desegregation faced stiff opposition from some members of his congregation.

Black students integrating CPHS were rebuffed by some members of their neighborhood, caused by the fear that their departure would weaken the community.

Black students were told white students had sticks and there would be violence. Black students remembered they were “scared to death”.

A team head coach at CPHS refused to attend the try-out for a Black student.

Black students remember white students lining the hallway staring in silence as they passed by.

An interracial group of students was refused admission to a pizza parlor.

Black students remember that white students “accepted us” over the course of the initial school term, and athletic teammates “had our backs”.

There were no protest demonstrations or physical attempts to block integration.

There was no violence.


One year later the School Board desegregated the rest of the Sand Springs Schools with the Superintendent issuing a statement that began in part, “While our schools have officially operated for several years under a policy of nondiscrimination…” [29] In 1966 the Booker T. Washington School was closed and school integration in Sand Springs was complete. The School and the Southside Addition neighborhood were later demolished for economic development. [30]


A commemorative plaque that is scheduled to be installed at CPHS in 2021 to recognize the integration of the school in 1964, courtesy of the author.

Endnotes:

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

2. Jamye Landis and the Sand Springs Cultural and Historical Museum Association. Sand Springs, Oklahoma (Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1999), 35 3. D.S. Otis, The Dawes Act and the Allotment of Indian Lands (Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973) IX Ibid. 31 4. Ibid. 31

5. Theodore Isham and Blue Clark, CREEK (MVSKOKE), Oklahoma Historical Society (The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture) 6. Landis: Sand Springs 10 7. Oklahoma Historical Society, Freedmen History (The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture)

8. Oklahoma Historical Society, All-Black Towns (The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture) 9. State Question No. 428, Ref. Petition No. 149, adopted at election May 3, 1965.

10. Blackpast.org - https://www.blackpast.org/african-history/luper-clara-1923/ 11. Tulsa Historical Society and Museum Photo Records Catalogue No.2016.028.10412 and 2016.028.10413, May 28, 1964

12. The Atlantic, “1964: Civil Rights Battles” with AP photo number 11 and caption. May 28, 2014

13. Sand Springs Leader, “Sand Springs Responds to Needs of Black Refugees” June 3. 1921.

14. Dianna Everett, BETTER SCHOOLS AMENDMENT Oklahoma Historical Society (The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture)

15. Nathaniel J. Washington, J. The Historical Development of Booker T. Washington School (c) 1978 p 1-2. 16. Tom Hanchett History South https://www.historysouth.org/rosenwaldhome/

17. Cynthia Savage, ROSENWALD SCHOOLS Oklahoma Historical Society (The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture)

18. James W. Russell, Report on Project to Desegregate the Sand Springs, Oklahoma Public Schools. Tulsa Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) http:www.//jamesrussell.com August 18, 1964. 1. 19. Commission on Civil Rights, Washington D.C. ED 145054 August 1977 p 131

20. Jerry E, Stephens, BUSING Oklahoma Historical Society (The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture) 21. Russell, Report 2. 22. James. W. Russell “Marques Haynes Gave Civil Rights Movement a Dunk Shot” (Willimantic CT: The Chronical, December 7, 1992)


23. The Oklahoma Eagle (Tulsa, Okla.), Vol. 45, No. 14, Ed. 1 Thursday, August 20, 1964, newspaper, August 20, 1964; Tulsa, Oklahoma. (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc1804980/: accessed August 10, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society. 24.Ibid.

25. E.L. Goodwin Jr., “Sand Springs School Board Rejects Then Accepts High School Students”. Oklahoma Eagle August 27, 1964,


26. Equal Justice Initiative (http: www.eji.org/news/history-racial-injustice-resistance-to-school-desegregation.)

27. Sand Springs Leader, “Six More Negro Students Approved to Attend CPHS” August 27, 1964

28. George Everett, Sandite Sketches (Sand Springs Cultural and Historical Museum 201) 39


29. Sand Springs Leader, “‘Free Choice’ Policy Scheduled in Schools Here.” August 19, 1965 30. Vision2025 Sand Springs Keystone Corridor Redevelopment, http://vision2025.info/sandsprings-keystone-corridor-redevelopment/

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