BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Oklahoma's Forgotten History

Davis D. Joyce is one of Oklahoma's greatest treasures, an expert on what he calls the generally unknown, or "contrarian" history of this state. His views of a good society generally reflect those of the influential historian, Howard Zinn, retired now from teaching at Boston University. Joyce is professor emeritus at East Central University in Ada. He lives in Tulsa now and teaches part time at Rogers State at Claremore.

This is not his first book on such a theme. Back in 1994 he came out with "Alternative Views of Oklahoma History." He said then that a student in his class was astounded at learning our progressive past and said, "It's an Oklahoma I had never seen before", which became part of the title of his book.

So the new volume, published by the OU Press very recently, he has called Alternative Oklahoma: Contrarian Views of the Sooner State. It's appropriate that the foreword is by Oklahoma's former Sen. Fred Harris. And get this: It is dedicated "To the memory and spirit of Woody Guthrie,"

Davis' wife, Carole, is a historian too, and she has given sketches of three Oklahoma women. In the first piece in the book Linda Reese concentrates on several women historians in the state who should be better known. Angie Debo's fame has grown in recent years. Others, like Anna Lewis, who taught at the old Oklahoma College for Women, now the University of Science and Arts in Chickasha, Okla., are not as well known.

Reese says Carolyn Foreman, who collaborated with her husband, Grant Foreman, seemed not to get the credit he did for their work. Muriel Wright's contribution to Oklahoma history was editing the historical society's publication, The Chronicles of Oklahoma. It was her grandfather, Allen Wright, principal chief of the Choctaw Nation from 1866 to 1870 who came up with the name "Oklahoma."

The African-American social and political experience in Oklahoma is mostly an inspirational story of hard and smart work for the betterment of their people. Early in our history all-black towns like Boley were started. Then Langston University was founded along with the other schools of higher education when we became a territory in 1890. Other positive influences were the many newspapers like that founded by Roscoe Dunjee, The Black Dispatch. He also started the NAACP in this area. Clara Luper's life is a wonderful testament to the powerful ethical actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Many of us are old enough to remember the counter sit-ins at Katz Drug Store on Main Street in Oklahoma City that were peaceful and successful.

A very timely piece here is the one by Gary Dotterman. who started Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He tells about growing up Catholic in Tulsa, going on to "get military experience," and then realizing the true nature of war. He was a true radical in the highest sense of that word.

The strong labor movement and the Socialist Party of Oklahoma are stories within themselves. I wish Professor Joyce had included a section in this book on two more great Oklahomans, Oscar and Freda Ameringer, socialist organizers. And the story of Dr. Michael Shadid, a pioneer in universal health care with his cooperative hospital in Elk City, is inspiring too. Anyway, let us be grateful to historians like Davis Joyce and Howard Zinn for giving us the real story.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2007

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