BTW centennial memories
Booker T. Washington High School celebrates 100 years of greatness this fall.
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In 1952, Henry C. Whitlow Jr. became principal and would serve for 17 years, the second-longest tenure to date.
Equal amounts of work and play seemed to be the norm for BTW students during this era. Alumna Mary Howell (Class of 1964), a member of the BTW Centennial Committee, fondly recalls her days at the high school.
“Our big social events at that time were the sock hops at the YWCA, which was located at Pine and Peoria,” Howell says.
Just about everyone liked the music of that day and had a favorite tune. “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, “Mashed Potatoes” by Dee Dee Sharp and “Please, Mr. Postman” by the Marvellettes were a few of the more popular songs of the day.
Howell also remembers there were limits. There seemed to be a big emphasis on curfews, even on local television. One of the Tulsa TV stations would announce each evening, “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”
She vividly remembers the large street clock located at the corner of East Pine and North Apache streets that many BTW students would use to check the time.
In the 1960s, there was a push for students to participate in practical classes such as homemaking, laundering and vocational courses that were geared to life experiences. There were hands-on classes such as vocational auto mechanics, vocational carpentry and cabinet making.
There were also business-training classes using electric typewriters, Dictaphones, and other business and calculating machines.
Howell says her most memorable high school experience occurred during the fall of her senior year in November 1963. Like many Americans, she clearly remembers hearing the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The ’60s also witnessed the rise to prominence of BTW athletics.
In 1967, the football team won the school’s first OSSAA state championship, a feat they repeated in 1968 and 1969. Those victories set the stage for BTW to excel in other sports, as well.
During the 1970s, the Hornets went on to win state titles in boy’s basketball, boys’ and girls’ track, volleyball and wrestling.
The end of that decade brought more administrative changes. In 1969, Dr. Raymond Parker succeeded Principal Whitlow. Parker was followed by Granville Smith in 1970.
With the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration that the “separate but equal” doctrine was unconstitutional, school attendance areas in Tulsa were redrawn. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, school integration plans took on new urgency.
Plans for integration, court rulings, appeals from court rulings, transfer policies, Tulsa School Board decisions and community meetings highlighted the late ’60s and early ’70s in north Tulsa.
According to the “Progress Report on Integration in the Tulsa Public Schools,” the Tulsa School Board was directed in February 1973 to develop a voluntary integration plan for BTW.
The community responded with offers to help. In one evening meeting, more than 200 interested Tulsans met to hammer out detailed suggestions for a plan.
Discussions continued until late March, when the school board approved a plan that would open BTW on a voluntary basis to 1,200 students — with an equal number of black and white students.
Incentives to voluntary enrollment included choosing from the most extensive electives of any high school in the city, a top-quality volunteer faculty and a teacher-pupil ratio of 1-17.
A progress report on the plan noted “the resounding success of the voluntary integration programs at Carver and Washington were listed as one of the major reasons for Tulsa’s selection as an All-American City for 1973.”
In 1973, H.J. Green became BTW principal and led the school through the integration process.
Loretta Collier was named principal in 1981, followed by James Furch, in his first stint as principal, in 1987.