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 affai