Oklahoma State University renames 2 buildings to honor civil rights pioneer Nancy Randolph Davis

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Nancy Randolph Davis photographed in 2007. Photo provided by OSU.

STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – Two buildings on the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater have been renamed in honor of civil rights pioneer Nancy Randolph Davis, the first black student to attend the university.

Davis attended the school in 1949 when it was Oklahoma A&M College.

The OSU/A&M Board of Regents held a meeting on Friday and approved renaming the Human Sciences and Human Sciences West buildings to Nancy Randolph Davis and Nancy Randolph Davis West, according to an OSU news release.

“This historically profound action by OSU and the A&M Board of Regents reflects and represents far more than the name of Mrs. Davis being physically attached and permanently assigned to one of the primary buildings for this academic college. It memorializes the willingness and desire of OSU to provide a sense of hope, as well as a level of expectation, on every member of the OSU community and family, that we can, must, and will continue engaging in meaningful efforts to transform ourselves and this university into a place that provides the fulfillment of educational goals and ideals in alignment with our land-grant mission,” said Dr. Jason F. Kirksey, vice president for institutional diversity and OSU’s chief diversity officer.

Nancy Randolph Davis

Renaming the buildings is the university’s latest action to honor Davis, who earned a Bachelor’s degree from Langston University in 1948 and a Master’s degree in home economics from then Oklahoma A&M College in 1952. She went on to teach home economics in Oklahoma high schools for more than 40 years, according to the news release.

“This tangible action further elevates OSU’s stature as a national leader and a role model for our commitment to social justice, equity, and inclusion. While there is certainly more work to do, it is important to recognize and have a sense of pride in the momentous and transformative actions that continue occurring at the university,” Kirksey said.

The university has previously bestowed the following honors upon Davis:

  • OSU Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999;
  • OSU’s residential Davis Hall was named in her honor in 2001;
  • The university celebrates “Nancy Randolph Davis Day” each February;
  • OSU College of Human Sciences’ Enhancing Human Lives Award in 2009;
  • Inducted into OSU’s Greek Hall of Fame in 2012;
  • Inducted into OSU’s Hall of Fame in 2018;
  • Bronze sculpture in her likeness unveiled in the courtyard of the then-Human Sciences building in 2019.
Photo goes with story
A bronze sculpture in the likeness of Nancy Randolph Davis — Oklahoma State University’s first African American student — is unveiled in January 2019 in front of the then College of Human Sciences. The OSU/A&M Board of Regents approved the renaming of the Human Sciences building to Nancy Randolph Davis at their meeting Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Photo provided by OSU.

The state of Oklahoma honored Davis in 2018 by naming a three-mile stretch of Interstate 35 West in Stillwater the Nancy Randolph Davis Memorial Highway.

Davis died at the age of 88 in 2015.

“But stories of her passion, dedication and commitment to public education live on. Davis influenced thousands of students and their families and inspired others to fight through adversity to pursue their dreams. She also did not shy away from supporting social changes in Oklahoma,” the news release states. “Throughout her life, she took an active role in the civil rights movement in Oklahoma, including working as an adviser to the Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council.”

The two buildings that are being renamed after Davis are not the same two buildings that were once named after former Oklahoma Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray, according to Monica Roberts, OSU’s Director of Media Relations.

The Board of Regents voted in June to remove Murray’s name from two buildings. Murray, the ninth governor of the state from 1931 to 1935, supported racist policies, including segregation and Jim Crow laws, which stripped black Oklahomans of Constitutional rights such as voting.

Students, staff, faculty and alumni provided input to get Human Sciences and Human Sciences West renamed in honor of Davis, according to Dr. Stephan M. Wilson, interim dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, who met Davis in 2008 when she received the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“She absolutely symbolically embodies these two colleges coming together. She was a powerful advocate and spokesperson for the whole idea of home economics … making sure people had access to and had the tools to best manage their food, clothing, shelter, the close relationships and family resources. She believed passionately about why that belonged in public schools because it could help so many students improve their lives,” Wilson said. “We are very proud to have been some small part of her life and be able to claim some small part of her legacy, which remains active now more than ever.”

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