National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
African American History Month Feature 2012
Attucks School, Vinita, Craig County, Oklahoma

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

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Attucks School
Photograph courtesy of the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office

A combined elementary, junior high and high school, Attucks School was one of seven such schools that served African Americans in Vinita, Craig County, Oklahoma,  and was the only one that had a secondary school until after racial desegregation in the mid-1950s. Established in 1915-1916, Attucks School is also important for its association with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created in the 1930s to stimulate local, state and national economies during the Great Depression. In 1939 the WPA built a gymnasium for the school that is located in the southwest-southeast corner of the building. The Attucks School is important in local history for its role as a separate primary and secondary school which served the educational needs of the local African American community. The Vinita public school system was desegregated as required by law following the landmark decision of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, where the Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional the state laws establishing separate public schools for African American and white students.

During the first half of the 20th century, the educational opportunities for African American school children were stifled by racism, a shortage of money and inadequate facilities. Despite these restrictions, the African American schools were important components of the local African American community and, along with the churches, are typically the best remaining resources associated with the African American ethnic heritage.  From Oklahoma’s earliest days of settlement by European and African Americans, African Americans composed a significant section of the population. Oklahoma was originally home to American Indians, and many more were settled there by the United States in what became known as “Indian Territory.” Some of the first African Americans to enter the territory were slaves who came on the famous “Trail of Tears” (1831-1838), which saw the removal of the Choctaw, Seminole, Creek, Chickasaw and Cherokee Americana Indian Nations from their original lands to what would  become the State of Oklahoma. In 1870 more than 6,000 African Americans lived in Oklahoma. In roughly 30 years the number of African Americans in Oklahoma more than tripled.

[photo]
Attucks School
Photograph courtesy of the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office

Until approximately 1897, Oklahoma was fairly well integrated, however, using the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine of the 1896 United States Supreme Court  decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the 1897 territorial legislation mandated racial separation of schools, juries and public facilities. The policy of segregation continued when Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907. The school system in Oklahoma was designed so that members of the majority race in the school district composed the school board. The taxation that supported African American schools was never equal to the funds provided for the white schools. The Attucks School District was established in 1900; before statehood, there were schools for American Indian children supported by the Cherokee Nation and subscription schools for non Native American children.

Attucks, a two story brick school, was constructed in 1916-17. As was typical of that period, the Attucks school was more than just the source of education for the local African American school children. An important community and social center, which showcased popular athletics, the school also provided a consistent outlet for musical and other academic attainments. Providing community information, the school also provided employment for the local African American community with positions ranging from janitor to administration. The closure of the Attucks School reduced the direct African American parental and community authority over secondary education of African American students in Vinita.

The building has been most noticeably altered by the replacement of doors and some windows. Attucks School added windows on the southeast elevation in 1925. As is typical throughout the United States, some of the windows have been replaced with ca.1970 aluminum frame windows. The WPA built the gymnasium/auditorium facility at Attucks school in 1939. Stylistically the school is a combination of a simplified Art Deco style and WPA construction. The Attucks School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 3, 2009.

Excerpts from the National Register Documentation for Attucks School, Craig County, Oklahoma (Glenda Downing /Counselor Tech Vinita Public School and Emma Rose Moore/Retired Teacher (edited by Lynda Schwan/OK SHPO National Register) Attucks School NRHP Nomination, Oklahoma SHPO, December 3, 2009)

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