Garland Pruitt
Where Oklahoma City stands on civil rights today

"I find it amazing that, for whatever reason, we seem to be in the process of going backward more so than forward."Garland Pruitt, president of the NAACP Oklahoma City branch

Long before he became president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Oklahoma City chapter, Garland Pruitt was raised by a single mother in an all-black Houston neighborhood in the 1960s.

The overt racial injustices he once felt in the South are mostly gone, he said. In their place is a new type of civil rights injustice — this time, more subtle.

“I find it amazing that, for whatever reason, we seem to be in the process of going backward more so than forward,” he said.

Pruitt’s concerns?

New state voter registration bills proponents say are designed to prevent fraud, but that critics contend are designed to hamper minority turnout at the polls.

A lack of common-sense solutions for mandating storm shelters in public schools.

No raise in the minimum wage at a time when the state’s economic elite receive massive tax breaks.

His list goes on.

“Fifty years ago, all the way up to today, we still have major issues that affect the lives of the masses,” Pruitt said. “Oklahoma has some major roads to tear down that just don’t make sense.”

In the fall of 1972, Pruitt was first introduced to racial integration as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma when he shared classrooms with white students. Pruitt, 61, was mostly accepted, thanks in large part to the heroics of black athletes who contributed to the Sooners’ athletic success. His older brother, Greg Pruitt, was a two-time All-American running back at OU and starred in the NFL.

The Pruitt brothers were among just a few hundred black students then attending the university. Today, the number of black students enrolled numbers in the thousands.

But statistics alone shouldn’t define how far the civil rights movement has advanced over the past 50 years, Pruitt said. Actions also matter. He was discouraged in January when he said neither the city of Norman nor his alma mater did much to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“We’re actually insensitive to those who hung, bled and died for the cause of inclusion and the position of acceptance,” Pruitt said.

“We are pregnant with possibilities, of coming together and being that beacon of light. It starts with leadership.”

- Kyle Fredrickson, kfredrickson@opubco.com