WAUKOMIS – A granite monument depicting the April 22, 1889, Oklahoma Land Run which was removed and placed in storage on the campus of Oklahoma City Community College may soon find a new home at the proposed Patriot Park in Waukomis.
The park, which supporters say would someday display all of the statues and monuments on 60 acres of donated farmland adjacent to State Highway 81, south of Enid, would be a single location for all unwanted statues and monuments to be displayed, while informing the public about patriotic Americans and Oklahoma history.
Media reports in late January noted that OCCC had responded to complaints from students and faculty about the Land Run monument that had been on the campus for at least several decades by removing from its location in front of the college’s main building and unceremoniously storing it behind a maintenance building on the far edge of campus.
The gray monolith is inscribed with images of settlers with horses and in wagons racing into Oklahoma’s “Unassigned Lands,” which includes present-day Oklahoma County, was part of the 1889 “Land Rush” of people seeking to stake a claim in the new territory. The monument is also inscribed with the words: “April 22, 1889, May the Spirit of the Pioneers Always Be With Us.”
OCCC interim President Jeremy Thomas told The Oklahoman that the monument was “offensive and had no place on our campus.”
Vice President Danita Rose added in the story that “a monument that depicts cruelty and oppression” does not allow OCCC to be a safe and inclusive environment for faculty and students.
Southwest Ledger sent a series of questions via email to Rose and has yet to receive a reply. Additionally, multiple messages were sent to Thomas’ office, but they were not returned by press time.
However, a spokesman for the college, Erick Worrell, did email a reply to our repeated questions with a simple statement designed to put an end to the controversy: “Education done right embraces a variety of views and understands there are seldom black or white choices – especially when examining history. We’re committed to listening, learning, and helping bring diverse viewpoints together. In that way, we hope to enlighten a better future together.”
PATRIOT PARK ON THE HORIZON
As reported in Southwest Ledger last October, State Sen. Casey Murdock (R-Felt) and Oklahoma historian John J. Dwyer, had taken a keen interest in developing Patriot Park, on land donated by Waukomis ranching couple Richard and Mo Anderson.
Murdock began preserving unwanted statues and monuments in summer 2020 after watching stories around the U.S. where the statues of historic American figures, along with monuments were taken down in the wake of protests highlighting racial injustice, as in the case of Black Minnesotan George Floyd, who died while in police custody.
Murdock connected with Dwyer and the Andersons and interest in the Patriot Park project began to take hold, as activists began vandalizing and tearing down statues and monuments around the country.
When he learned about the Land Run monument being taken down, Murdock requested a meeting with President Thomas and Executive Vice President Rose. And while this meeting was arranged, also present at the meeting was Chancellor Glen D. Johnson, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
While Johnson did not reach out personally to discuss the matter, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications, Angela Caddell, sent Southwest Ledger an emailed statement on the matter: “Chancellor Johnson was pleased to facilitate a dialogue between Sen. Murdock and Oklahoma City Community College Interim President Jeremy Thomas on this issue.
“The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education do not set policy or approve plans related to the placement or removal of statues and monuments on public college and university campuses. As the coordinating board for the state system of higher education, the State Regents’ responsibilities include prescribing academic standards, determining functions and courses of study at state colleges and universities, granting degrees, requesting appropriations on behalf of state system institutions, setting tuition and fees, approving institutional allocations and, upon review, providing final approval of institutional budgets following governing board approval and submission.
“Decisions regarding the placement or removal of statues and monuments are within the exclusive purview of the institutions and their respective governing boards.” At the conclusion of the meeting, Murdock said he was told that the college would discuss the ultimate fate of the monument in an upcoming board meeting, while also admitting the removal of the monument was not handled well.
John J. Dwyer, the Waukomis-based Oklahoma historian who is author of the 2016 book The Oklahomans: The Story and Its People, is involved with the Patriot Park project through the Red River Institute of History, a non-profit that looks to highlight the history of Oklahoma, Texas and the Southwest.
In a recent statement, Dwyer wrote: “Oklahomans should know and teach their children that this state and the America of which it is a part, despite their many imperfections and transgressions, have from its beginning offered hope and health to a vast—and growing—assemblage of people from many lands in a manner never duplicated since the creation of the world.
“The courageous “’89ers,” a tough and largely poor bunch, advanced the banner for that peerless civilization, whose lavish gifts and resources all of us have benefitted from, including those who ridicule the pioneers’ actions and motivations. Those settlers, and others like them on many fields, from many places, possessed qualities of character that many modern Oklahomans would do well to emulate, lest they lose the birthright so well passed on to them from those who came before.
“Indeed, the last time I checked, America towered above all others in history as a destination spot for aspiring immigrants from across the world. It has been so for a very long time. I encourage those who would decry the pioneers’ statues to study more carefully the attributes and actions that led to the feats that led to the statues.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Casey Murdock is in full agreement with Dwyer and the ongoing efforts to create Patriot Park.
“I feel good about it,” Murdock told Southwest Ledger, regarding the monument finding a new home at the Patriot Park. “I think we have a good chance” of getting it moved to Patriot Park.