Organized nationally in 1910, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) reached Oklahoma in 1913 when black leaders founded a local chapter in Oklahoma City. By the mid-1920s the organization had more than a dozen chapters in the Sooner State, most being in eastern Oklahoma. In May 1931 William Pickens, NAACP national field secretary, visited Oklahoma City. He attended a meeting with delegates from all of the state's local branches. African American leader Roscoe Dunjee, owner-editor of Oklahoma City's Black Dispatch, seized the day. He led the forces that organized the Oklahoma Conference of Branches, which became the first such state branch in the nation. Dunjee served as the organization's president for twelve years.
With Dunjee in command, the NAACP directed a membership drive. For the most part, people in the professions were the first to join the organization. They came from the ranks of lawyers, teachers, preachers, and doctors.
Dunjee proved to be an invaluable leader of the state NAAP. He served on the national board of the NAACP and also on the executive council of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He served as president of the National Negro Business League and as vice chair of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, a regional association whose members pledged to help poor blacks as well as poor whites.
Most whites viewed the NAACP as a sinister organization that threatened their way of life. They believed the NAACP was a "danger" to white society. Consequently, the organization's leaders and members sometimes suffered petty harassment and outright violence, sometimes found themselves unemployed, and sometimes learned that their credit had been restricted. Dunjee penned dozens of editorials for his newspaper, wherein he both lobbied for black civil rights and also pricked the consciences of whites by continuing to write about injustices done to African Americans in the Sooner State.
In legal battles to achieve racial equality in Oklahoma, as in the rest of the nation, early victories were few, but NAACP activists registered some gains. In the Guinn v. United States (1915) case, for example, the group filed an amicus curiae brief while the federal government argued the case. In its Guinn ruling the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Oklahoma "grandfather clause." Trying to reimpose restrictions on black voting, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a voter registration law in 1916, and many whites used intimidation and outright violence to stop the African American vote.
The Court stuck down that law just as it had the grandfather clause. Over the years other victories came. One instance related to city ordinances and other governmental ploys that mandated segregated housing. Represented by the NAACP, Onie Allen and Sidney Hawkins challenged Gov. William "Alfalfa Bill" Murray's 1935 executive order that segregated housing in Oklahoma City. Murray enforced his order by declaring martial law. In Allen v. Oklahoma City (1935), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Murray's attempt to create what was called a "segregation zone" in the city.
The most famous of the NAACP's suits in Oklahoma came after World War II. In Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (1948) the NAACP argued that Ada Lois Sipuel was entitled to a legal education in a state school. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The decision integrated the University of Oklahoma Law School. In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950) the NAACP argued that the University of Oklahoma violated the Fourteenth Amendment when it admitted George McLaurin to its graduate college but then tried to segregate him while he was on campus. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ordering the university to end its discrimination.
The NAACP was also involved in Clara Luper's Oklahoma sit-in movement in the 1950s. An Oklahoma City schoolteacher, one who came to be called the "mother" of the state's Civil Rights movement, Luper was the director of the Oklahoma City NAACP's Youth Council. With some of her children in tow, on August 20, 1958, she entered the downtown Katz Drugstore and asked for sit-down service while her charges took their seats at the food counter. Denied service, Luper and the children came back the next day. Katz's management yielded after white customers intervened, offering to buy meals for the polite, young black students. Thus began Luper's Oklahoma sit-in movement that soon had a string of successes in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Enid, Lawton, and other towns around the state. The NAACP Youth Councils had a hand in such victories. Overall, the Oklahoma branches of the NAACP never stopped lobbying for black rights.
As the Sooner State entered the new millennium, the NAACP still maintained its presence in the state, and the organization continued to take firm positions on matters affecting the black community. In the future the NAACP's Oklahoma members will likely continue to be guardians and advocates of the rights of the state's African American community. It was true that the NAACP pushed hard for black rights and practiced a type of "legal warfare" in challenging racial discrimination and segregation.
James M. Smallwood, "NAACP ," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org (accessed May 08, 2017).
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