Greenwood - The University of Tulsa

Greenwood

Gerald Davis and the founding of the Association of Black Collegians

 

One of the most vibrant student organizations at The University of Tulsa is the Association of Black Collegians (ABC). This group was established in 1969 during the midst of civil rights upheaval and desegregation in the United States, when the push for Black student unions at colleges and universities was at an all-time high. Now, over 50 years later, the need for Black student unions is no less crucial.

man standing in front of a brick building wearing a grey cap, white shirt, striped tie and blue blazer
Rev. Gerald L. Davis (BA ’72)

We recently joined TU alumnus and ABC co-founder Reverend Gerald Davis (BSBA ’72) at The Church of the Restoration, where he has ministered every Sunday since 2007, to gain an insider’s perspective on the formation of the organization.

Heeding the call to ministry

Davis did not always know that he was going to be a minister. In fact, upon graduation, he hardly knew what step he was supposed to take next. Davis felt some inclination to go to law school and follow the same path as his eldest brother. He also thought about going to graduate school and getting his master’s in business or finding work at the Office of Juvenile Affairs. In the end, none of those options aligned with his core interests.

During his time at TU, Davis was active with the Canterbury Center for United Ministry (now Little Blue House). It was there that Davis was first introduced to campus minister Thad Holcomb. In addition to campus ministry, Holcomb was also the minister for a conference center run by the Presbyterian church in Abiquiu, New Mexico, called Ghost Ranch. During the summer, Ghost Ranch frequently employed college students as staff and hosted various professors from all over the country. It was there that Davis decided to spend his first summer as a college graduate.

Black and white photo of a young man with dark hair wearing a light-colored shirt and dark tie and blazer
Davis’ senior photo

“It was a really nice summer,” Davis said. “I brought my saxophone because I had played in all the TU bands. The acoustics were beautiful.” While sitting in an arroyo and listening to the sounds, Davis had a religious experience: “All at once a feeling came over me and there were no words. There was just an understanding that said ‘I love you.’” Davis knew from that moment what he was supposed to do with his life.

Luckily for him, Professor David Butrick of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary had been teaching classes at Ghost Ranch that summer and had already taken a liking to Davis. At Butrick’s recommendation, Davis applied to seminary in Pittsburgh where he would later graduate with a master’s in divinity. Davis also received his master’s in social work from the University of Pittsburgh.

Ordained in 1976, Davis has since served as a missionary in Zaire and, closer to home, as associate director of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries and director of corrections ministry and jail chaplain for Tulsa. He has also served as a co-minister in Denver and now is an affiliate minister at Tulsa’s All Souls Unitarian Church and the minister for the Church of the Restoration. 

The mother of invention

TU is where Davis’ desire to help people began. “Activism is a part of ministry. TU gave me the launching pad,” said Davis, recalling the early days of his activism. While at TU, he joined the Student Association, where he pushed for an outward focus on helping the community.

Black and white photo of two young people conversing outside
Davis and classmate Pat Putnam

Davis also helped operate a 24/7 crisis center hosted by Canterbury Ministries on campus. It was a place where students in distress could go to calm down and talk to someone. It gave Davis an understanding of mental health and, he believes, is likely the reason he chose to pursue social work as a career. However, Davis’ most resounding extracurricular was his role in co-founding the ABC.

Black and white photo of a drum major marching
Drum Major Davis

In his youth, Davis was the only Black student in his high school band and the only Black student on the student council at Sapulpa High School. Davis also served on academic and administrative councils during his time at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he was, once again, the only Black student to serve. “I’ve always been a border walker,” said Davis, and it is for that reason that he emphasizes the importance of organizations like the ABC.  

“Everything starts with a lack,” commented Davis, contemplating the formation of the ABC and his role in that venture. “They say the mother of invention is necessity, and at TU in 1968 when I first walked on campus, there were very, very few African Americans.” 

Davis recalls sharp and articulate classmates William Horn, Shiphrah Williams and Sheryl Arbuckle sharing the same convictions regarding the need for a Black student union. They all reported feeling ostracized and excluded from their university, which claimed to be liberal, and they all felt it necessary to establish an organization founded on inclusivity. 

Headshot of a black woman outside in front of foliage
Professor Cecilia Palmer

Before the ABC could properly establish themselves, they needed bylaws and a sponsor. The University of Oklahoma’s Black Student Union gladly shared its bylaws with the ABC. Soon after, the ABC found a temporary sponsor in Professor of English James Matthews before establishing Associate Professor of Education Cecilia Palmer, the first and only Black professor at TU and a survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre, as the group’s official sponsor. 

Once the group found its footing, Williams and other ABC members began writing a column for the Collegian titled “Forever Black.” Davis recalls students rushing to get a copy of the papers: “To hear someone speak from their heart on how it feels to be a Black student on campus was hard for some people to hear, but it started a conversation.”

Proud dad and a powerful legacy

young woman with dark hear, smiling and wearing a white T-shirt
Olivia Davis (Class of 2022)

A lot has changed in 50 years, but Davis’ admiration for his alma mater has not faltered. He is particularly proud of the fact that his daughter, music major Olivia Davis, is set to graduate this spring and is carrying on the legacy started by her father when he was her age.

Having a space that celebrates Black culture and education has been as formative an experience for Olivia as it had been for her father: “ABC has played a huge role in my decision to stay at TU. Community is very important to me and it is sometimes difficult to find spaces around campus that affirm and cater to developing that sense of community.”

Given that their participation in ABC spans half a century, there is a strong sense of legacy between the two Davises. “Being a part of that legacy holds a special place in my heart, and is something precious between me and my father,” said Olivia. 

Organizations like the ABC are as important now as they were 50 years ago for many reasons. Above all, however, is the significance of community and togetherness in these marginalized groups. “You are doing what you’re supposed to do in order to clear a path for those who want to follow in your footsteps,” said Davis. “It’s always we. It’s always us.”

Healthy bodies and spirits

Established in North Tulsa in 1999, Davis’ Church of the Restoration has been home to various community programs and religious institutions since its construction in 1947. 

one-level brown brick buildingIn the 1940s, when polio and tuberculosis had yet to be eradicated, having access to a vaccine clinic was crucial. Black North Tulsa residents, however, had access to none. That all changed in 1947, when a group of Tulsa artists and entertainers took note of the fact that Black workers employed in the homes of white families were unvaccinated and without the resources to get vaccinated.

According to Davis, the group, known as The Variety Club, did not want unvaccinated help in their homes, so they resolved to build The Variety Health Clinic on Greenwood Avenue. North Tulsa residents welcomed the clinic with a marching band parade when it finally opened for business. 


Want to stay up to date on future ABC meetings and events? Email tulsau.abc@gmail.com for information on how to get involved and be sure to enjoy out the various Black History Month events on campus this February!

TU Law to launch Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic

A century after attorney Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960) set up shop in Tulsa’s Greenwood District to offer legal counsel to an underrepresented community, The University of Tulsa’s College of Law is returning to that neighborhood to carry on Franklin’s legacy and give hope to those most in need.

The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic will be the latest addition to TU Law’s Clinical Education Program. It will provide free legal services to clients in Greenwood and North Tulsa who require assistance with a variety of issues identified in consultation with community leaders and service providers. Legal assistance will be available, for example, on issues including housing, such as foreclosure prevention and evictions; disability applications; expungements and pardons; unemployment applications; small business formation; and problems repaying business loans.

The clinic is named after Tulsa attorney Buck Colbert Franklin, who was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar in December 1907 and established his law practice in Tulsa with Attorney I.H. Spears on Greenwood Avenue in 1921. Franklin moved to Tulsa 100 years ago this month from Rentiesville, where he had lived with his wife, Molly Parker Franklin, and his two youngest children, Anne Harriet and John Hope. His family had lived in Oklahoma since they arrived in the 1830s, enslaved to the Birney Chickasaw family.

Two men and a woman seated inside a tent
Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Tulsa Friends and John W. and Karen R. Franklin

In the aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Franklin served his community and his profession by assisting massacre survivors. Working from a tent because his office had been burned down, Franklin fought back against the injustice of the massacre and the city’s assault on Tulsa’s Black community. Through his advocacy, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a City of Tulsa ordinance passed in the aftermath of the massacre that allowed survivors to rebuild their homes only if they used fireproof building materials.

“My grandfather, B.C. Franklin, helped his community rebuild after a white mob destroyed Greenwood in two days. You will note that his clinic, photographed June 6, 1921, accommodated his partner, I. H. Spears, and their temporary secretary, Effie Thompson, my grandfather’s college classmate from Roger Williams University in Nashville. The tent held lawbooks, a typewriter and a telephone! Residents lined up to submit their insurance claims,” said historian John. W. Franklin, a program manager and curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. “I am very pleased that the new TU B.C. Franklin Legal Clinic honors Grandpop’s commitment to public service.”

a man and a woman standing outdoors next to a flight of stairs
Dwain Midget (JD ’03) and Stephanie R. Jackson (JD ’18), co-chairs of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Coalition

“The TU College of Law is well recognized for providing outstanding clinical programs that serve multiple needs and diverse communities in our city,” commented Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “The College of Law Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic, which grew out of the collaborative work of TU alumni, faculty, students and community members, expands the breadth of the college’s clinical offerings and carries on Mr. Franklin’s legacy of service, leadership and justice.”

The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic is possible thanks to the generosity of donors who contributed to the recent ‘Cane Crowd fundraising campaign in support of the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Coalition, a new entity at TU Law comprised of students, faculty and alumni. The coalition’s mission is to mark the centennial of the tragedy with hope and action. Members of TU Law’s vibrant Alumni Association have been particularly instrumental in conceiving of and financially supporting the coalition and the clinic.

First steps: Confronting housing insecurity

The Buck Colbert Franklin Legal Clinic will eventually have a physical presence in the community it will serve. In the meantime, a virtual legal clinic held Jan. 23 focused on housing issues. Clinic organizers chose this topic because of the many acute challenges renters in Tulsa face, including the city’s high eviction rate. As a recent report by TU Law’s Terry West Civil Legal Clinic underscored, Tulsa’s eviction rate is the 11th highest in the United States, a situation that has been compounded by the economic and health fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

 

“Despite the fact that it was only the first week of the spring semester, our students stepped up to the plate, with all the work for the Jan. 23 event conducted over the phone,” said Associate Dean for Experiential Learning Mimi Marton. Noting that this is a challenging way to operate for both clients and students, Marton commented that “we are committed to providing services that the communities need using all of the resources at our disposal. We could not have done this without the help of community leaders and our TU Law alumni, and without the trust that the clients placed in us. We look forward to many years of providing legal services to the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities.”

Over the course of five hours, 16 students worked in teams of two to help 10 clients. Prior to this clinic, the students had undergone a week of focused training on topics such as Oklahoma’s landlord and tenant legislation as well as the long-term effects on tenants of the eviction process. During the event itself, they were assisted by clinical faculty and two lawyers from Housing Solutions. Clients brought a variety of issues to the table, including homelessness, safety and disability.

For 2L student Abigail Bauer, helping people to navigate these turbid waters held both personal and professional significance. On one hand, the clinic enabled her to act on her belief that those with legal knowledge have a responsibility to assist others who lack such a resource.

In addition, the applied training dimension is critical. “These real-world experiences cannot be replaced. The chaos of the ‘unknown’ – unknown clients, unknown extension of the eviction moratorium, unknown global health circumstances – forced us to prepare for an array of scenarios. This strenuous type of preparation is what helps our minds think more critically because we now have real clients to protect,” she said.


Plan to attend the 21st Annual Buck Colbert Franklin Memorial Lecture, featuring Hannibal B. Johnson, Esq. This year’s lecture will be presented virtually on Feb. 18.