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University expulsion incident made headlines

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In this Oklahoma Christian College yearbook photo, Ron Wright, middle, is one of two black students shown talking with white students in the college's library. [Photo provided]
In this Oklahoma Christian College yearbook photo, Ron Wright, middle, is one of two black students shown talking with white students in the college's library. [Photo provided]

It should come as no surprise that news of the student demonstration at (then) Oklahoma Christian College made headlines.

The Oklahoma City Times, an afternoon newspaper, and The Daily Oklahoman, a morning newspaper, both featured pictures and stories related to the incident in following days and weeks.

A story on the expulsions and arrests ran on March 7, 1969, alongside a report focused on the Oklahoma City black community's efforts to help the "Oklahoma Christian 18" after they were expelled and arrested for trespassing on the private Christian school campus.

Most notably, civil rights activist Clara Luper, who was head of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council, met with the students to discuss what happened.

Luper seemed to think the students would be able to persuade the university to change course on the expulsions because of the school's Christian roots.

"What if you appealed (the expulsions) in the name of the Lord, the Savior and Godliness?" she asked the students in a March 7 story in The Daily Oklahoman.

The story headline was "Christians Don't Forgive" with the sub-headline, "Expelled students bitter." Luper and the students also discussed their complaints about what they called the school's discrimination in discipline between black and white students.

According to newspaper reports, Luper and the NAACP found food and lodging in the community for many of the students who were from out of state. The reports said Luper also had plans to host a rally in support of the students a few days after the expulsions at the NAACP's Freedom Center.

An NAACP regional leader met with the OC president to see if he would change course, but the president declined, saying school policy prohibited student demonstrations.

An NAACP attorney also appealed to the judicial system for help, but a municipal judge refused to reopen the case of 15 of the students who had pleaded guilty to trespassing.

According to reports, three of the students posted and then forfeited bail ($20) and one charge was dismissed on a technicality. The NAACP attorney argued that the students could not legally be charged with trespassing at a college in which they were enrolled and that they did not know the consequences of their guilty pleas. The municipal judge told the attorney that he had advised the students of their rights when they came to court.

Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion, the university's president was lauded for the stance he took against the students.

The Daily Oklahoman published several Letters to the Editor supporting his decision.

"Looks like Dr. James Baird of Oklahoma Christian College in Oklahoma City knows how to handle the student sit-in problem about as well as Rev. Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame — quick and effective! Bravo!" read one letter titled "OCC Students 'Well-Handled.'"

"The only other thing that might be tried is to find out about the family backgrounds of such students. This might help solve and correct such problems at an earlier stage."

Another letter read: "The action taken by the president of Oklahoma Christian College is worthy of respect by all, whether they profess to be Christians or not. The decisive action of those in command, taken in regard to those who break laws or rules, as the case may be, is the only truly fair way to deal with any large public institutions, school or club. ... Hats off to OCC."

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›