OSU students seek to address racial injustices with Juneteenth rally on campus

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press A young boys holds up a sign June 3 at the We Can't Breathe Peaceful Protest in front of the Stillwater Police Department.

Student organizers at Oklahoma State University are planning a Juneteenth March for Black Lives on the campus of Oklahoma State University.

The rally begins 6 p.m. Friday with a short walk near Edmon Low Library, before gathering near the fountain to listen to speakers.

Juneteenth, recognized as a state holiday in Oklahoma since 1994, is a celebration of black independence from slavery. The date, June 19, marks the day in 1865 – well after the federal abolishment of slavery and end of the Civil War – when military forces helped to free slaves in Galveston, Texas.

The plan for the event started to come together not quite two weeks ago, according to co-organizer Sean Tolbert.

“We wanted to make a point to kind of continue the conversation about the black communities on campus,” Tolbert said. “We thought that Juneteenth was going to be a great opportunity to do that.”

The sustained momentum from protests across the country that followed the killing of Goerge Floyd has yet to wane.

“Like many of the other protests that have been happening in the past couple of weeks, the initial motivation of this was the murder of George Floyd, but it’s also not just about that, or one person,” said co-organizer Payton Dougherty. “The whole event is about celebrating black liberation and talking about what we still have left to do to achieve racial justice.”

In Stillwater there have been a handful of demonstrations, including one on campus in an effort to have William Murray’s name removed form Murray Hall. And just recently, Oklahoma State University found itself in the national spotlight after star running back Chuba Hubbard took exception to a T-Shirt of a right-wing cable news channel, which had been critical of the Black Lives Matter Movement, worn by his coach Mike Gundy. The coach has since apologized, and might be an example of how people are more attuned to the movement and willingness to listen.

“I care a lot about the university and I can confidently say that while there are a lot of people on campus who are absolutely coming from the right place, as far as trying to serve minority populations, specifically black populations, the university it not doing enough for these students,” Tolbert said. “Hopefully, very soon, we will have tangible data that will prove black students do not excel as much as their white peers at Oklahoma State University. Hopefully we’ll be able to point to retention data as well as recruitment data, to prove that the school can do more to serve black populations. That’s what I want. I’ve spent the last three years trying to have these conversations, and it seems that now is the time in this country and in this state, even in this Oklahoma State University community, that we’re ready to have that conversation. I hoping to be able to take my experiences and just kind of contribute my input so we can better serve the kids coming after myself.”

During the event, the demonstrators will also present the university with a “list of urgencies,” for actual changes they want to see made at the university. The organizers have yet to finalize the list – it is being developed with a lot of input from different people – but they expect the university to implement some changes for the upcoming school year.

“I just want us to get to a point where the average committee member or the average OSU student understands that in a nation that was founded by white supremacists and built by enslaved people on stolen land, that it takes more than the passing of a few laws and the election of a black president to just undo hundreds of years of racial injustice and oppression of an entire race of people,” Dougherty said. “Racism doesn’t just go away when we stop talking about it and it doesn’t just go away when it’s not something that you experience personally. It’s still an issue every day. And I think most people don’t have a great understanding of how significant the issue still is. Basically, I want there to be, at the very least, a campus-wide conversation of race in America and how far we still have to go.”

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