OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – KFOR wants to spotlight Remarkable Women in Oklahoma! After receiving a flood of nominations, we have 4 finalists for our Remarkable Women in Oklahoma spotlight. This is the third in the series until we reveal the winner on March 30th.
OKC Underground, where quiet tunnels meander under the downtown hustle and bustle, is where you’ll find framed words of wisdom from Oklahoma’s centenarians.
“They had lived through a pandemic, you know, the flu, and world war, and personal loss, and the Dust Bowl,” MJ Alexander said.
For Oklahoma’s Centennial in 2007, photographer MJ Alexander traveled the state, seeking out our centenarians. She found 144 and wove their words and portraits into her book, Salt of the Red Earth: A Century of Wit and Wisdom from Oklahoma’s Elders.
MJ flips through the pages, reading off their tips on life. “Her tip to live a good life is to drink a hot toddy every morning,” she said. And on another page, MJ read aloud, “She said, ‘Be honest, go to church, pay your bills.'”
From the other side of her lens, MJ captured the raw emotion in their eyes and every mark on their skin created by a century of life.
“I still take dancing lessons every Friday. The movement of dancing is delightful,” MJ said as she read a quote from Doris Eaton Travis.
At the age of 14, Doris was the youngest dancer of the Ziegfeld Follies in New York, before moving to Oklahoma.
“I feel responsible for their legacy, I feel responsible for sharing their wisdom with Oklahomans, with the world. And whatever I can do to put their words out there and to keep their spirit alive,” MJ said.
As for her second book, Portrait of a Generation: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth, MJ turned the tables. Instead of looking back on life, she looked forward, through the eyes of Oklahoma’s youth and where they will lead us.
“His mom said, ‘I want him to work smart, not work hard.'” MJ read, pointing to the photo she took of a little boy on an antique tricycle.
She is also an artist. Her work casts shadows of kindness at Dolphin Wharton Park in Oklahoma City, and shadows of peace at Andrews Park in Norman.
“During the pandemic, I’ve done 13 installations,” she said.
There are far too many to mention, just like her awards. But this inductee into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame is also a poet and lyricist. She’s married to Ed Knight, a composer, and the two join forces to create musical art.
“So, he wrote a beautiful song around the cadences of my words.”
Alongside the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Canterbury Voices have performed some of their many works.
MJ relies on her cameras to tell the stories of Oklahomans, however, all but one of her cameras burned as a fire destroyed the couple’s century-old home during the ice storm of 2020. She later found one camera in her car.
“I’ve got one. But that’s all you need!” she said.
They are still rebuilding and thinking positively. Because behind the great lens of life, this photographer sees gratitude as the big picture.
“I’ve just been very lucky to meet so many people and to go to so many places, and to bring that to great attention. And I appreciate that and don’t take it for granted.”
And if a single picture truly is worth a thousand words, MJ Alexander’s are worth millions.