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Bench honoring Black educators installed in OSU-Tulsa’s Reflection Garden

Published: Thursday, August 5, 2021

The "Bench by the Road" at the OSU-Tulsa Reflection Garden is unveiled by Toni Morrison Society founder and board chair Carolyn Denard (left) and Lynn Simpson, a Toni Morrison Society officer.

A bench honoring the history of Black educators in Greenwood was recently installed at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa’s Reflection Garden, located by the pond south of Main Hall. The bench, part of the Toni Morrison Society’s “Bench by the Road” project and installed in partnership with the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, is one of 31 such benches across the world and one of three on North Greenwood Avenue.

The bench in the OSU-Tulsa Reflection Garden is dedicated to the dozens of educators produced by Booker T. Washington High School, which was originally located on what is now the OSU-Tulsa campus. A series of plaques that list graduates of the original high school location who went on to become Tulsa Public Schools educators and administrators was displayed and will soon be installed.

“You are standing in the area that is the Mecca of education here in the city of Tulsa,” said historian Julius Pegues, chair of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, before providing a timeline of the schools that had served the area since statehood. “The real significance of these educators that we are talking about today is that that they graduated from Booker T. Washington High School between 1916 and 1951, and they came back to Tulsa to teach in the Tulsa Public School system. We should be proud that we’re standing in the area that led the educational efforts in the city of Tulsa.”

Carolyn Denard, founder and chairwoman of the Toni Morrison Foundation also spoke at the unveiling, along with Langston University Director of Libraries Lynne Simpson, OSU-Tulsa President Pamela Fry and JHF Center Director Reuben Gant.

Since statehood, this piece of Tulsa’s Greenwood District has been the home of educational institutions including Booker T. Washington High School, Dunbar Elementary, Langston University, University Center at Tulsa and OSU-Tulsa.

The new bench is both literally and figuratively a “bench by the road,” a phrase the late author Toni Morrison used to describe the absence of historical markers that remember the lives of Africans. Similar benches were installed on Greenwood Avenue earlier this year, including one at Archer and Greenwood and one just south of OSU-Tulsa at the Mabel Little House adjoining the Greenwood Cultural Center.

“Thank you to the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, as well as the Toni Morrison Society, for your partnership in making this Reflection Garden a space that not only celebrates the rich legacy of education in this area of the Greenwood District, but also provides a place for rest, contemplation – and studying,” OSU-Tulsa President Pamela Fry said at the unveiling. “This Bench and this Garden are a valued addition to our campus, and I hope that our community, and our students, will feel at home here.”

This Bench by the Road is the first piece of the Reflection Garden, where students and the public will be able to sit and be reminded of the area’s legacy of Black education and excellence.

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OSU-Tulsa is also home to the Ellis Walker Woods Memorial and a Booker T. Washington historical marker. To learn more about the history and community of the OSU-Tulsa campus and its neighbors, visit the OSU-Tulsa community page.

Plaques like this one detail the Bench on the Road initiative and the legacy of some Booker T. Washington High School graduates.
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Media Contact: Aaron Campbell | 918-594-8046 | aaron.ross.campbell@okstate.edu