LUTHER, OK – Elizabeth Hilton Threatt, the namesake of the Luther Library, would have turned 109 years old on Independence Day.
Elizabeth Hilton Threatt was born in Luther on July 4, 1911. She was the middle of eight children born to her parents, Samuel Hilton and Elizabeth Hogg Hilton.
Samuel came to Oklahoma as a young man and homesteaded a claim just north of present-day Luther. Later he became the first African American attorney in the area. Elizabeth Hogg’s family lived on the farm just north of his and they married in 1904.
Education was a priority in Elizabeth’s life. Her schooling began in a log cabin three miles northeast of Luther and she later transferred to the Booker T. Washington School in the town of Luther where she graduated in 1929. The following year her school was destroyed in a fire and was rebuilt in 1931. This Booker T. Washington School would soon play a central role in Elizabeth’s life.
In 1931, she earned a Life-time Teaching Certificate from Langston University which permitted her to teach grades 1-8 in Oklahoma schools. She returned to her beloved Booker T. Washington school to begin her teaching career. At Washington, Elizabeth taught all subjects but football. “The only reason I didn’t teach it; the superintendent didn’t ask me,” she once said. There were days when she worked in the kitchen during lunch while watching her class during their recess time.
Elizabeth was part of a dedicated core of exceptional teachers at Booker T. Washington School and its graduates were sought after by African American colleges across the nation. For many students, she was the school. When Washington closed in 1957 during the integration of the public school system, she declared what many graduates of the school believed, “Booker T. Washington will always be home to me.”
In 1937, Elizabeth married Ulysses Grant Threatt. Like the Hiltons and the Hoggs, the Threatt family was prominent in the Luther area. The Threatts quarried stone on their farm east of Luther which was used in the construction of a filling station in 1915 by Ulysses parent’s, Allen and Alberta. They created the Threatt Filling Station, the first black-owned filling station on Route 66 that served as a safe-haven for black travelers during the Jim Crow era, providing respite, food and entertainment while traveling. Ulysses and Elizabeth eventually began operating the station which included a café and a zoo.
The zoo became Ulysses’ “drawing card” for the business, enticing people to stop to see his Den of Death — a pit full of rattlesnakes. Ulysses went rattlesnake hunting every April and those captured rattlesnakes later found themselves to be a roadside attraction. Less venomous animals in his zoo included a raccoon, a frog, a rat, and a coyote named Johnny that Ulysses taught to ‘sing’.
Elizabeth woke at 4:30 every morning to help in the café and then taught classes at 8:30. In interviews, she recalled, “I have fed many a hitchhiker; I’ve poured many a cup of coffee; fried many a strip of bacon, sunny-sided many an egg.”
But first and foremost the Threatts ran a filling station. In 2009, Elizabeth recalled, “I know how to check the oil; I know how to grease a car; I know how to changes tires. Of course, I can’t do it today. I’m not as strong as I used to be, but nothing is wrong with my mind and my heart.” During World War II when Ulysses was overseas and after his passing in 1956, Elizabeth ran the business alone, closing in 1974.
Education remained a priority for Elizabeth and she returned to Langston University for a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. In 1954, she began graduate studies at Central State College (now University of Central Oklahoma) in Edmond and was one of the first five African Americans enrolled at the college. While continuing to teach at Washington and then Luther schools, she attended evening, weekend, and summer classes and earned her master’s in 1959.
Elizabeth retired in 1976 after teaching in the Luther school system for 44 years. Mrs. Threatt passed away on November 28, 2009, at 98 years of age. She spent all her life in Luther, Oklahoma, affecting the lives of all she encountered – especially her 5,000 “children.”
The library was named for Mrs. Threatt in May, 2004. According to newspaper clippings, The Town of Luther had a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and a parade in her honor.