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Juneteenth Weekend Celebrates Luther’s Washington History

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Luther, May 23, 2018—In 1953, the students of Washington High School in Luther proudly presented their “first” yearbook to the student body of the Town’s Black high school. Full of pictures from the halls and classrooms of the big school on the hill, the annual was to be a new tradition. However, it turned out to be the first and last yearbook for the high school named in honor of Booker T. Washington, the famed educator, and author of Up From Slavery. The next year, the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown versus Board of Education that segregating blacks and whites in school was unconstitutional. The Class of 1955 was the last to graduate from Washington before integration.

Even though the 1953 yearbook staff published the first known annual, the Washington school itself had been part of Luther for 40 years. It was built in 1916, less than 20 years after Luther became a town, according to some records, platted in 1898. The school was heralded as one of the premier Black high schools in the country.  But the original building burned down in 1930 and was rebuilt in 1931.

Many in modern-day Luther have heard of Elizabeth Threatt, and some of us remember her. The local library is named for her and her family owned a filling station east on Highway 66, when the “Mother Road” opened in 1928. Threatt Filling Station, is on the National Historic Register.  She began Washington as a little girl,  graduated in 1929, and went on teach beginning in the 1930s.

In an interview conducted in 2004  for the University of Central Oklahoma Oral History project, Mrs. Threatt was asked about that transition to integration. 

We had no problems in Luther and our superintendent said if he had known it was going to be this smooth we would done that years ago,” said Mrs. Hilton-Threatt. 

While teaching at Washington, Mrs. Threatt pursued her Master’s degree and was one of the first five Black students to be admitted into the University of Central Oklahoma. A natural “multi-tasker,” she was a lifelong student and educator who juggled many duties.

Elizabeth Threatt

“I have been a service station operator, full line of 2 gasoline and oil with Conoco Oil Company, full-line grocery store. I’m a wheat farmer, registered white face cattle producer, and chef cook. I’ve fried many strips of bacon, sunny side eggs, poured many, many cups of coffee on Route 66 where you got your “kicks.” I went into the classroom from 8:20 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Taught everything except football. Someone asked, ‘why you didn’t teach that.’ The Board of Education and the late superintendent Mr. E.E. Cox didn’t ask me,”  she said in the 2004 interview.

Also a world traveler and community volunteer, Mrs. Threatt lived by the principles of ” being a friend to all of mankind, knowing God personally, and working hard.”

“To be a teacher and all I wanted to do was help somebody to read, write and count. And by the way, I was paid only $65 a month. But I didn’t care anything about the pay. I just wanted to help somebody to read,” she said.

Elizabeth Hilton-Threatt died in 2009 at the age of 98 years.

After desegregation, the Washington campus was used for a few more years for all students. William Arthur remembers taking some classes there. “The shop teacher was Earl Hawkins and it was in the mid-sixties, 1963-1966. Woodshop was in the old Washington school that they tore down and welding class was in the north building that’s still there. All the kids at the Washington school had moved over to the Luther high school by then,” he said.

Luther Armstrong Head Start

By the 1980s, the campus was in such poor shape, the main building was razed, and all that survived was the “Industrial Arts” building that is now the Luther Armstrong Headstart. Luther leaders and historians worked to establish a park on the site, dedicated in 1998. 

To keep the memory and spirit alive of Washington school, a reunion is held every other year on Juneteenth weekend. This year, the festivities will include a gathering, “Barbecue, Basketball and Brotherhood” at Washington Park, and a banquet will be held on Saturday, June 16, 2018, at the Luther Community Center. Ron Henry is organizing the effort. Tickets for the event are $35 and come with a commemorative booklet. Proceeds help fund two scholarships for Luther High School students.

“Everyone is welcome,” said Mr. Henry, who is working tirelessly to honor the past and carry the legacy forward. Contact him for tickets or to buy an advertisement in the booklet.

Original Booker T Washington school built in 1916 and burned in 1930

The students of Washington High School are memorialized in the 1953 yearbook. There were scholars, athletes and class clowns. They were involved in choir, band, twirling, debate, drama, athletics, home-economics, vocational-agriculture and 4H. Mrs. Threatt was a sponsor for many of the activities, and so was Mr. LK Jackson who was principal and classroom teacher.

Dedicated to his profession and his students, Mr. Jackson’s words provide a glimpse into the life of Washington School in the opening letter he penned for the yearbook 65 years ago.

“My association and work with the student body, the personnel of Washington High School and the people of Luther School District have been a pleasure. Personally, I believe we have one of the best schools to be found anywhere in a community of this size.

It is my desire that each boy and girl who attends this institution will be inspired to live a better and more enlightened life.

In your quest for the truth may you find your answers. May you seek lofty ideals and in obtaining them may they bring to each of you success, health, friends, spiritual satisfaction, happiness and a good home.

Washington High School’s Philosophy is, “Give every child an equal break in his quest for an education,” and to this extent we enourage each child to build a colorful and harmonious personality and to realize the glory of being happy.”

Mr. LK Jackson, principal, Washington High School, Luther, 1953

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Sharon MacAllister, Luther’s beloved historian, for helping with this story. She found the 1953 Eagle yearbook, scanned the pages, and shared them. Thank you, Sharon!

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