State's black leaders want Capitol statue

Saturday, February 12th 2005, 2:22 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's black leaders agree it's time to have a statue at the state Capitol commemorating the contributions made by someone of their race.

``Look over there, and you'll see an Indian and a cowboy. Where's the African-American?'' civil rights activist Clara Luper said last month at the bell-ringing ceremony in front of the Oklahoma Historical Society, across the street from the Capitol's south entrance.

``This is important because if a black kid comes to the Capitol, he has to have a picture taken by an Indian statue or a statue of a cowboy,'' Luper said later in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman. ``We have a lot of people that go out to the state Capitol, and a picture is worth a thousand words.''

She said she discussed her idea with state Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, and Gov. Brad Henry, and will rely on others to carry the idea forward.

At her urging, the state NAACP chapter, meeting in Oklahoma City, unanimously approved a resolution Jan. 22 seeking a statue.

``There was a motion that it ought to be done because blacks are a part of Oklahoma. If they're going to have statues put up for any group, we need to be included,'' said state NAACP President Miller Newman of McAlester.

Roosevelt Milton, president of the NAACP Oklahoma City chapter, suggested A.C. Hamlin, the first black elected to the Oklahoma Legislature in 1908.

But Milton's list also included Oklahoma City heroes Roscoe Dunjee, founder of the Black Dispatch newspaper in 1915, and F.D. Moon, longtime principal of Douglass High School.

As a candidate for the whole state, state Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, suggested Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, a native of Chickasha who went to the U.S. Supreme Court to win the right to attend the University of Oklahoma School of Law in Norman. She practiced law in Chickasha before becoming a professor at Langston University.

``I think it would be fitting to honor her because of the national significance of what she was able to accomplish,'' Shumate said.

State Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, proposed it be a composite black Oklahoman.

``I would hate to put a single face on it,'' Shelton said. ``There's been so many that bled, died and fought for the rights of African-Americans. If we are narrowed to one statue, it could carry many faces because so many contributed.''

One plan with a head start is a proposed memorial to Oklahoma's buffalo soldiers, to be built near the Capitol's east entrance off NE 23 Street if the Legislature appropriates funding.

``It will be a landscape project with a hero-size statue of a buffalo soldier dressed in his gala,'' said Blake Wade, director of the Oklahoma Centennial Commission.

The $300,000 project has been on the Centennial Commission's list for several years but has yet to be funded, Wade said.

``We're requesting those funds again this session,'' he said.

Bruce Fisher, diversity curator at the Oklahoma Historical Society, said he believes the buffalo soldier memorial would satisfy those who want a statue of a black hero at the Capitol while also fitting the theme of frontier history represented in other art at the Capitol grounds.

``They protected Indian Territory from encroachers before it was open to settlement; they protected it after the Civil War; they protected the building of telegraph lines and stage coaches. They were so important and practically uncelebrated.''