CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A black Oklahoma senator and longtime activist for the Oklahoma Democratic Party unleashed her long-simmering resentment Thursday about how blacks are regarded by the state party, telling delegates to the national convention that it made no sense “to be treated like disposable diapers.”
State Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre, of Tulsa, made an emotional speech at a breakfast meeting with Oklahoma Democrats on the final day of the Democratic National Convention, where the nation's first black president was nominated for a second term.
With four other black members of the Oklahoma Legislature standing silently behind her in a food tent at the state delegation's hotel, Eason-McIntyre said there was “an invisible ceiling for African-Americans who have been the backbone of the Democratic Party.”
She said the Oklahoma Democratic Party “has always asked us to be the workhorses,” but has not reciprocated in promoting blacks for leadership positions within the party or as candidates for higher office.
Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins said after the speech that he was blindsided by the criticism and had worked hard to engage blacks. Collins has been chairman for the past year.
Eason-McIntyre, who is 67 and is serving her last term in the Oklahoma Senate, has harbored her feelings for years, but they hit a tipping point late Wednesday night in the convention hall during the roll call of the states.
The roll call is typically a celebratory ritual at conventions as party leaders boast about their states' claims to fame.
On Wednesday, Collins, party vice chairman Dana Orwig and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker took turns on the microphone in announcing the state's 49 votes for President Barack Obama.
Collins mentioned “the great Cherokee philosopher Will Rogers.” Orwig cited “the people's poet, Woody Guthrie.” And Baker hailed Obama as the best president ever for Indian Country.
Collins also noted “the great diversity within our delegation.” It does, in fact, have more black delegates than any other in state party history. And, with some unintended irony, he expressed pride in the state delegation's “unity” and made a vague reference to the division in the Oklahoma Republican Party over supporters of Rep. Ron Paul's presidential run.
Eason-McIntyre was upset that none of the several black Oklahomans here were asked to help with the roll call announcement and that no famous black Oklahomans were cited.
“Woody Guthrie was a fine man,” she said. “Will Rogers is a fine man. But where was Clara Luper? Where was Ralph Ellison?”
Luper was a revered Oklahoma civil rights activist who died last year. Ellison was the Oklahoma City-born author who won the 1953 National Book Award for “Invisible Man,” the fictional chronicle of a black man who believes himself unseen by white people.
“Like the book, we are the invisible people,” Eason-McIntyre said.
The state party, she said, “is more than Native Americans. It's more than rural whites. It's African Americans.”
Collins stood up immediately after Eason-McIntyre finished and apologized.
“I don't know what else to say,” Collins told her. “I'm sorry.”
Orwig said later that Eason-McIntyre had done a good job of relating her experiences “without blame or rancor.”
“I respected her for being willing to say what she had to say,” Orwig said, adding that no insult had been intended in writing the roll call speech.
A black state legislator said later that he agreed with Eason-McIntyre's remarks and pointed to the fact that Oklahoma Republicans had been willing to push J.C. Watts for statewide office and state Rep. T.W. Shannon for Speaker of the House.
When Watts went to the Democratic Party to get involved, the legislator said, Democrats wanted him to stuff envelopes. The Republican Party ran him for state Corporation Commission, he said. Watts went on to serve four terms in Congress.