Save Booker T.
STILLWATER, Okla. — The walk from home to history is less than a hundred yards for Gloria Bailey and her daughter Iris Slade, “A lot of years,” says Iris as the two of them walk from the home they share to the old Booker T. Washington School. They are a couple of the last holdouts still living in the town’s old segregated neighborhood off 12th Street. It’s most visible remaining landmark is the old school. “It’s the hidden history of Stillwater isn’t it,” says a visitor.” “Very hidden,” says Iris. “The only black school in this community.”When it was open Stillwater’s Booker T. operated in the classic mold of ‘seperate but equal’ The old South High School was only two blocks away but if your skin color was dark you came to class here. Gloria went to school there. Iris did too right up until it closed. “In ’68 we had to de-segregate,” she says. “And I ended up at Westwood Elementary School in the 5th Grade.”From the ’20′s through most of the ’60′s generations of children moved through. When it closed a Head Start center moved in briefly. The building was a community center for a while, but neglect became its default champion. The old neighborhood dispersed. The school became an eyesore. City leadership had it tarteted for demolition before the Bailey’s started going to council meetings to protest. Iris pleads, “Even if we could just stop the re-zoning, I’m fine with that.”History can sometimes play strange tricks. Booker T. is a relic of an unfair, racially biased system, yet its closest neighbors fight to save it. Iris insists, “this school was wonderful. It was great. We might have learned from some old book but those books took us around the world and back.”It’s just as much home as the house they live in, a solid reminder of what once was. Gloria says, “As I grow old and go on my grandchildren won’t have anything to relate to in this area because everything will be gone.”Times may change but no matter where you come from home is sacred ground.The week after this story aired the Stillwater City Council voted to re-zone the school property as a commercial area which brings Booker T’s fate just a little closer to the wrecking ball.