In pursuit of social justice
Tulsa’s written history about those who sought social justice is incomplete.
Ann Patton’s latest book, “Dan’s War on Poverty,” fills in the gaps. If you were not living in Tulsa during the ’60s and ’70s (or even if you were), you probably weren’t aware of the conviction of many Tulsans during those years. Dan Allen was one of the most involved and concerned, one of the worthiest, and Patton writes his biography and a revealing history of the times. Here in the backwaters, or so deemed by big coastal cities, social and conservation revolutions erupted unpretentiously.
Patton’s written history is spellbinding because she lived and reported it. She was a Tulsa World reporter and witnessed the civil rights contests and sensitive school desegregation. Later, as an aide to local elected officials, Patton was one of our city’s experts on flood mitigation and convened the team largely responsible for the system of flood plains and reservoirs that has staved off any serious flooding here for 25 years.
To both experience the moment and have the poetic skills to share the story made Patton destined to write this book. She often jumped the line from spectator to player. She got caught up in Allen’s passion for the unfortunate, as did many others, including Maynard Ungerman, Dan McCarthy, Father Bill Skeehan, Pat Flanagan, Carol Falletti and Wilbert Collins. They continue to expand Allen’s work long past his death in 1995.
“Dan’s anger influenced me,” Patton says.
According to Patton’s book, Allen started his fight against poverty as a priest at St. Jude’s Catholic Church in north Tulsa. His allegiances changed as he pursued his battle. He left the priesthood, or it left him, as his methods became more unorthodox. He founded Neighbor for Neighbor (NFN) in 1967. Here, no guidelines existed; there was no means testing, no government assistance. If you reaped benefits from NFN, you were asked to return the favor. By 1969, NFN had aided 900 families. Allen said, “From the beginning, the idea was not to simply run a charity but to integrate charity and justice into one.”
When asked by a couple of Allen’s former volunteers to write his biography, Patton started at a deficit, as the charity’s archives had been lost. Patton spent the majority of the two and a half years of the book’s gestation researching old newspaper clippings and conducting more than 40 interviews.
“I hope the book inspires readers,” she says. “To let them know that to do the work of a saint doesn’t require perfection. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things for the common good.”
Patton explains school desegregation so lovingly and expertly, the reader will gain insight and compassion for white and black citizens alike who volunteered to risk personal harm to smooth the transition order from the Supreme Court. NFN leaders conceived the idea to bus children of both races to “salt and pepper” schools. They solicited the cooperation of the League of Women Voters and school administration. Thus was born Burroughs Little School. Eventually, magnet schools became the unified, humane integration system in Tulsa and the national model for community leadership.
Patton retired from the City of Tulsa in 2004 and continues to serve municipalities in flood-control measures and disaster management. She is a charter member of the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association and other disaster interest groups.
She has won writing and civic awards. She has her own writing and disaster-management consultancy business. She proudly declares that her 15 grandchildren are her life, and oh, yes, she still volunteers at the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice and is the volunteer director of outreach and research.
“Writing this book has brought me home,” she says.
Suggestion 1: Read “Dan’s War on Poverty” for its superb storytelling.
Suggestion 2: Go to Ann Patton Commons to read it. Our city named an open-space flood plain park at Mingo Creek in east Tulsa in her honor.
Meet the author
Ann Patton will appear at several events this month to discuss her new book, “Dan’s War on Poverty.”
- June 14: “Dan’s War” at Red Fork Lions Club, 4111 W. 41st St. 7 p.m. Call 918-808-5530.
- June 19: “Dan’s War” Juneteenth at Rudisill Regional Library, 1520 N. Hartford Ave. 6-8 p.m. Call 918-549-7645.
- June 12, 19 and 26: Non-credit, three-session course offered through the Oklahoma State University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI): “Dan’s War on Poverty,” stories from the book told by the people who lived them. 1-3 p.m. Central Center, 1028 E. Sixth St. To enroll, click here.
For more information on these events, visit www.annpatton.net.