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Memorial for first Booker T. Washington High principal closer to realization

Ron Bussert, OSU-Tulsa vice president for administration and finance, left, Captola Dunn and her son, Malcolm Dunn, co-chairs of the Ellis Walker Woods Memorial Committee, state Sen. Kevin L. Matthews, Jay Helm, chairman of the University Center at Tulsa Authority Board of Trustees, state Rep. Regina Goodwin and Tulsa city councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper break ground on Monday for the Ellis Walker Woods Memorial.

An outdoor memorial to Ellis Walker Woods, the first principal at the city’s iconic Booker T. Washington High School, is a step closer to realization at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held today for the Ellis Walker Woods Memorial on the OSU-Tulsa campus. The installation is expected to be completed in the coming months.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to honor Mr. Woods and his contributions to our community,” said OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett. “Future generations will be able to learn about him as an educator and a citizen of Tulsa.”

The memorial will be located at the north side of John Hope Franklin Boulevard near the intersection with Greenwood Avenue. The high school was originally located on the current site of OSU-Tulsa.

Woods, who was principal at Booker T. Washington High School from 1913 until his death in 1948, was known as a kind and generous man who instilled confidence among his students.

“The idea was to do something to recognize this person who has done so much for this community,” said Captola Dunn, whose late husband, Albert Edgar Dunn, helped initiate the effort to establish the memorial. “It’s been a long time coming.”

The E.W. Woods Memorial Committee, made up of the school’s alumni, raised funds for the memorial, which will include granite columns engraved with names of notable former Booker T. Washington students. The committee is co-chaired by Dunn and her son, Malcolm Dunn.

“We envision the memorial as an outdoor area for reflection, a physical representation of what E.W. Woods accomplished for Tulsa,” said Kajeer Yar, who represents developer GreenArch LLC. “The history of this man’s impact on Tulsa is remarkable.”

Woods was born in eastern Mississippi to freed slave parents where he picked cotton and worked as a farmhand to fund his college education. He came to Tulsa as a young man after learning the city was in need of black teachers.

“He was a principal but he had a caring attitude about children,” said Dunn, who attended the high school along with her husband when Woods was principal. “He was a motivator. He often told his students that, ‘You’re as good as 90 percent of the people and better than the other 10 percent.’”

Woods sheltered many black children at the high school during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot and allowed the American Red Cross to use the school building to treat the injured and provide temporary shelter.

A community leader, Woods was president of the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers and a trustee at Vernon A.M.E. Church. He was the Hutcherson YMCA chairman, a Greenwood Chamber of Commerce officer and was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Woods was inducted into the Tulsa Hall of Fame in 1991.

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